The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea
Yuldo Mishima was born in Tokyo in 1925.
When he graduated from the Peers’ School
in 1944, he received a citation from the
Emperor as the highest honour student. He
graduated from the Tokyo Imperial
University School of Jurisprudence in 1947,
and the following year he published his first
novel. He wrote eight novels, four successful
plays for the Kabuki Theatre, and a travel book.
He was the author of more than fifty short
stories, ten one-act plays, and several
volumes of essays. Among his books published
in England are After the Banquet , Confessions of
a Mask , Death in Midsummer and other stories ,
and The Thirst for Love . The Sound of Waves,
published in Japan under the title of Shiosai ,
won the 1954 Shinchosha literary prize.
Immediately after the Second World War,
Yukio Mishima went to the United States
as a guest of the State Department and of
Partisan Review . In his spare time he was a
devotee of weight-lifting and body-building
Mishima firmly upheld the traditions of Japan’s
imperial past, which he believed were being
swiftly eroded by Western materialism. In 1970
he astonished the world when he and a
colleague committed ritual suicide, or hara-kiri ,
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace
with the Sea
Translated from the Japanese by John Nathan
in association with
Martin Seeker & Warburg
Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth,
Penguin Books, 625 Madison Avenue, New York,
New York 10022, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood,
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 2801 John Street,
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R IB4
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,
Auckland 10, New Zealand
Go go No Eiko first published in Japan 1963
This translation published in Great Britain by
Martin Seeker & Warburg 1966
Published in Penguin Books 1970
Reprinted 1972, 1976 (twice), 1977
Copyright © Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1966
All rights reserved
Lyrics for the song which appears for the first time on
page 16, */ Can 9 t Give Up the Sailor’s Life * , are
from a poem by Ryo Tano
Made and printed in Great Britain by
Cox & Wyman Ltd, London, Reading and Fakenham
Set in Intertype Baskerville
Except in the United States of America,
this book is sold subject to the condition that
it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without
the publisher’s prior consent in any form of
binding or cover other than that in which it is
published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the
Part One Summer
‘Sleep well, dear. 9
Noboru’s mother closed his bedroom door and locked
it. What would she do if there were a fire ? Let him out
first thing - she had promised herself that. But what if the
wooden door warped in the heat or paint clogged the
keyhole? The window? There was a gravel path below;
besides, the second floor of this gangling house was hope-
It was all his own fault. It would never have hap-
pened if he hadn’t let the Chief persuade him to sneak
out of the house that night. There had been endless
questions afterwards, but he hadn’t revealed the Chief’s
They lived at the top of Yado Hill in Yokohama, in a
house his father had built. After the war the house had
been requisitioned by the Occupation Army and toilets
had been installed in each of the upstairs bedrooms: being
locked in at night was no great discomfort, but to a
thirteen-year-old the humiliation was enormous.
Left alone one morning to watch the house and in need
of something to vent his spite on, Noburu began to
rummage through his room.
A large chest of drawers was built into the wall adjoin-
ing his mother’s bedroom. He pulled out all the drawers,
and as he was dumping their contents on to the floor he
noticed a trickle of light spilling into one of the empty
compartments of the chest.
He thrust his head into the space and discovered the
source of the light: strong summer sunlight was reflecting
off the sea into his mother’s empty bedroom. There was
plenty of room in the chest. Even a grown-up might
squeeze in up to his belly if he lay flat. Peering at his
mother’s bedroom through the peephole, Noboru sensed
something new and fresh about it.
The shiny brass beds his father had ordered from New
Orleans were set against the wall on the left side just as
they had been before his death. A bedspread was
smoothed neatly over one of them, and on the white cloth
a large letter ‘K’ - Kuroda was the family name. A blue
straw sun-hat, trailing a long pale-blue ribbon, lay on the
bed. On the night-table stood a blue electric fan.
Across the room, near the window, there was a dress-
ing-table fitted with an oval three-piece mirror. The
mirror was not quite closed; the upper edges of the glass
glinted through the cracks like splinters of ice. In front of
the mirror rose a small city of bottles: eau de Cologne,
perfume sprays, lavender toilet water, a Bohemian glass
goblet, its facets glittering in the light ... a crumpled pair
of brown lace gloves lay withering like cedar leaves.
A couch and two chairs, a floor lamp, and a low,
delicate table were arranged directly under the window.
An embroidery frame, the beginnings of a pattern needled
into the silk, was propped on the couch. The vogue for
such things had passed long ago, but his mother loved all
kinds of handicraft. The pattern seemed to be the wings
of some gaudy bird, a parrot maybe, on a background of
silver-grey. A pair of stockings lay in a heap next to the
embroidery. The jarring embrace of pure nylon and the
imitation damask of the couch gave the room an air of
agitation. She must have noticed a ladder on her way out
and changed in a hurry.
Only dazzling sky and a few fragments of cloud, hard
and glossy as enamel in the light bouncing off the water,
could be seen through the window.
Noboru couldn’t believe he was looking at his mother’s
bedroom; it might have belonged to a stranger. But there
was no doubt that a woman lived there: femininity
trembled in every comer, a faint scent lingered in the
Then a strange idea assailed him. Did the peephole just
happen to be here, an accident? Or — after the war -
when the soldiers’ families had been living together in the
house . . . He had a sudden feeling that another body,
larger than his, a blond, hairy body, had once huddled in
this dusty space in the wall. The thought soured the close
air and he was sickened. Wriggling backwards out of the
chest, he ran to the next room. He would never forget the
queer sensation he had when, flinging open the door, he
Drab and familiar, the room bore no resemblance to
the mysterious chamber he had seen through the peep-
hole: it was here that he came to whine and to sulk - it's
time you stopped coming into Mother's room so often
with that excuse about wanting to watch the ships; you're
not a child any more , dear - here that his mother would
put aside her embroidery to help him with his homework
while she stifled yawns, or would scold him for not tying
his tie straight, or would check the ledgers she brought
home from the shop . . .
He looked for the peephole. It wasn’t easy to find.
Cunningly hidden in the ornately carved wainscot, in a
spot on the upper border where the rippled pattern over-
lapped to conceal it - a very small hole.
Noboru stumbled back to his room, gathered the scat-
tered clothing, and stuffed it back into the drawers. When
everything was as it had been, he vowed never to do any-
thing that might attract the grown-ups 5 attention to the
Shortly after he made this discovery, Noboru began
spying on his mother at night, particularly when she had
nagged or scolded him. The moment his door was closed
he would slip the drawer quietly out of the chest, and
then watch in unabating wonder while she prepared for
bed. On nights when she was gentle, he never looked.
He discovered that it was her habit, though the nights
were not yet uncomfortably hot, to sit completely naked
for a few minutes before going to bed. He had a terrible
time when she went near the wall mirror, for it hung in a
comer of the room he couldn’t see.
She was only thirty-three and her slender body,
shapely from playing tennis every week, was beautiful.
Usually she got straight into bed after touching her flesh
with perfumed water, but sometimes she would sit at the
dressing-table and gaze into the mirror at her profile for
minutes at a time, eyes hollow as though ravaged by
fever, scented fingers rooted between her thighs. On those
nights, mistaking the crimson of her bundled nails for
blood, Noboru trembled.
Never had he observed a woman’s body so closely. Her
shoulders, like the shoreline, sloped gently downwards.
Her neck and arms were lightly tanned, but at her chest,
as if an inner lamp were burning, began a zone of warm,
fleshy white. Her haughty breasts inclined sharply away
from her body; and when she kneaded them with her
hands, the rosy nipples danced apart. He saw the
trembling belly. And the scar that meant she had borne
children. A dusty red book in his father’s study had taught
him that; he had discovered it on the highest shelf, turned
the wrong way, sandwiched between a gardening book
and a pocket business manual.
And the zone of black. The angle was bad somehow,
and he strained until the comers of his eyes began to
ache. He tried all the obscenity he knew, but words alone
couldn’t penetrate that thicket. His friends were probably
right when they called it a pitiful little vacant house. He
wondered if that had anything to do with the emptiness
of his own world.
At thirteen, Noboru was convinced of his own genius
(each of the others in the gang felt the same way) and
certain that life consisted of a few simple signals and
decisions; that death took root at the moment of birth
and man’s only recourse thereafter was to water and
tend it; that propagation was a fiction; consequently,
society was a fiction too; that fathers and teachers, by
virtue of being fathers and teachers, were guilty of a
grievous sin. Therefore, his own father’s death, when he
was eight, had been a happy incident, something to be
On moonlit nights his mother would turn out the lights
and stand naked in front of the mirror ! Then he would
lie awake for hours, fretted by visions of emptiness. An
ugliness unfurled in the moonlight and soft shadow and
suffused the whole world. If I were an amoeba, he
thought, with an infinitesimal body, I could defeat ugli-
ness. A man isn’t tiny or giant enough to defeat anything.
As he lay in bed, ships’ horns often screeched like night-
mares through his open window. When his mother had
been gentle, he was able to sleep without looking. On
those nights, the vision appeared in his dreams instead.
He never cried, not even in his dreams, for hard-
heartedness was a point of pride. A large iron anchor
withstanding the corrosion of the sea and scornful of the
barnacles and oysters that harass the hulls of ships, sink-
ing polished and indifferent through heaps of broken
glass, toothless combs, botde caps and prophylactics into
the mud at harbour bottom - that was how he liked to
imagine his heart. Some day he would have an anchor
tattooed on his chest.
The most ungentle night of all came towards the end of
the summer holiday. Suddenly: there was no way of
knowing it would happen.
His mother left early in the evening, explaining that
she had invited Second Mate Tsukazaki to dinner. To
thank him, she said, for having shown Noboru around his
ship the day before. She was wearing a kimono of black
lace over a crimson under-robe; her obi was white
brocade: Noboru thought she looked beautiful as she left
At ten o’clock she returned with Tsukazaki. Noboru let
them in and sat in the living-room with the tipsy sailor,
listening to stories about the sea. His mother interrupted
at ten-thirty, saying it was time for him to go to bed. She
hurried Noboru upstairs and locked the bedroom door.
The night was humid, the space inside the chest so
stuffy he could scarcely breathe; he crouched just out-
side, ready to steal into position when the time came, and
waited. It was after midnight when he heard stealthy
footsteps on the stairs. Glancing up, he saw the doorknob
turning eerily in the darkness as someone tried the door;
that had never happened before. When he heard his
mother’s door open a minute later, he squeezed his sweat-
ing body into the chest.
The moonlight, shining in from the south, was reflected
back from one pane of the wide-open window. Tsukazaki
was leaning against the window-sill; there were gold
braid epaulets on his white short-sleeved shirt. His
mother’s back came into view, crossed the room to the
sailor; they embraced in a long kiss. Finally, touching the
buttons on his shirt, she said something in a low voice,
then turned on the dim floor lamp and moved out of
sight. It was in front of the clothes closet, in a comer of
the room he couldn’t see, that she began to undress. The
sharp hiss of the sash unwinding, like a serpent’s warning,
was followed by a softer, swishing sound as the kimono
slipped to the floor. Suddenly the air around the peephole
was heavy with the scent of Arpege. She had walked
perspiring and a little drunk through the humid night air
and her body, as she undressed, exhaled a musky frag-
rance which Noboru didn’t recognize.
The sailor was still at the window, staring straight at
Noboru. His sunburned face was featureless except for the
eyes that glittered in the lamplight. By comparing him
with the lamp, which he had often used as a yardstick,
Noboru was able to estimate his height. He was certainly
no more than five feet seven, probably a little less. Not
such a big man.
Slowly, Tsukazaki unbuttoned his shirt, then slipped
easily out of his clothes. Though he must have been nearly
the same age as Noboru’s mother, his body looked
younger and more solid than any landsman’s: it might
have been cast in the matrix of the sea. His broad
shoulders were square as the beams in a temple roof, his
chest strained against a thick mat of hair, knotted muscle
like twists of sisal hemp bulged all over his body: his flesh
looked like a suit of armour that he could cast off at will.
Then Noboru gazed in wonder as, ripping up through the
thick hair below the belly, the lustrous temple tower
soared triumphantly erect.
The hair on his rising and falling chest scattered quiver-
ing shadows in the feeble light; his dangerous, glittering
gaze never left the woman as she undressed. The reflec-
tion of the moonlight in the background traced a ridge of
gold across his shoulders and conjured into gold the artery
bulging in his neck. It was authentic gold of flesh, gold of
moonlight and glistening sweat. His mother was taking a
long time to undress. Maybe she was delaying purposely.
Suddenly the full long wail of a ship’s horn surged
through the open window and flooded the dim room - a
cry of boundless, dark, demanding grief; pitch-black and
glabrous as a whale’s back and burdened with all the
passions of the tides, the memory of voyages beyond
counting, the joys, the humiliations: the sea was scream-
ing. Full of the glitter and the frenzy of night, the horn
thundered in, conveying from the distant offing, from the
dead centre of the sea, a thirst for the dark nectar in the
Tsukazaki turned with a sharp twist of his shoulders
and looked out towards the water.
It was like being part of a miracle: in that instant
everything packed away inside Noboru’s breast since
the first day of his life was released and consummated.
Until the horn sounded, it was only a tentative sketch.
The finest materials had been prepared and all was
in readiness, verging on the unearthly moment. But one
element was lacking: the power needed to transfigure
these motley shreds of reality into a gorgeous palace.
Then, at a signal from the horn, the parts merged into a
Assembled there were the moon and a feverish wind,
the excited, naked flesh of a man and a woman, sweat,
perfume, the scars of a life at sea, the dim memory of
ports around the world, a cramped breathless peephole, a
young boy’s iron heart - but these cards from a gypsy
pack were scattered, prophesying nothing. The universal
order at last achieved, thanks to the sudden, screaming
horn, had revealed an ineluctable circle of life - the cards
had paired: Noboru and mother - mother and man -
man and sea - sea and Noboru . . .
He was choked, wet, ecstatic. Certain he had watched
a tangle of thread unravel to trace a hallowed figure. And
it would have to be protected: for all he knew, he was its
c If this is ever destroyed, it’ll mean the end of the
world,’ Noboru murmured, barely conscious. I guess Vd
do anything to stop that , no matter how awful!
Surprised, Ryuji Tsukazaki woke up in an unfamiliar
bed. The bed next to his was empty. Little by little, he
recalled what the woman had told him before she had
fallen asleep: Noboru was going swimming with friends
in Kamakura in the morning; she would get up early and
wake the boy, and would come back to the bedroom as
soon as he left . . . would he please wait for her quietly.;
He groped for his watch on the night-table and held it up
to the light that filtered through the curtains. Ten min-
utes to eight: probably the boy was still in the house.
He had slept for about four hours, after falling asleep
at just the time he would normally be going to bed after
night watch. It had been hardly more than a nap, yet his
head was clear, the long pleasure of the night still coiled
inside him tight as a spring. He stretched and crossed his
wrists in front of him. In the fight from the window, the
hair on his muscled arms appeared to eddy into golden
pools; he was satisfied.
Though still early, it was very hot. The curtains hung
motionless in front of the open window. Stretching again,
Ryuji, with one extended finger, pushed the button on
Fifteen minutes to Second Officer’s watch - stand by
please . He had heard the Quartermaster’s summons dis-
tinctly in a dream. Every day of his fife, Ryuji stood
watch from noon to four and again from midnight to
four in the morning. Stars were his only companions, and
Aboard the freighter Rakuyo , Ryuji was considered
unsociable and eccentric. He had never been good at
nattering, never enjoyed the gossip supposed to be a
sailor’s only source of pleasure. Tales of women, anec-
dotes from ashore, the endless boasting ... he hated the
lowbrow chatter meant to sweeten loneliness, the ritual of
affirming ties with the brotherhood of men.
Whereas most men choose to become sailors because
they like the sea, Ryuji had been guided by an antipathy
to land. The Occupation interdict forbidding Japanese
vessels to sail the open sea had been revoked just as he
graduated from a merchant-marine high school, and he
had shipped out on the first freighter since the war to sail
to Formosa and Hong Kong. Later he had been to India
and eventually to Pakistan.
What a joy the tropics were! Hoping to trade for
nylons or wrist watches, native children met them at
every port with bananas and pineapples and papayas,
bright-coloured birds and baby monkeys. And Ryuji
loved the groves of wine palms mirrored in a muddy,
slow-flowing river. Palms must have been common to his
native land in some earlier life, he thought, or they could
never have bewitched him so.
But as the years passed, he grew indifferent to the lure
of exotic lands. He found himself in the strange predica-
ment all sailors share: essentially he belonged neither to
the land nor to the sea. Possibly a man who hates the
land should never leave it. Alienation and the long
voyages at sea will compel him once again to dream of
life ashore, torment him with the absurdity of longing for
something that he loathes.
Ryuji hated the immobility of the land, the eternally un-
changing surfaces. But a ship was another kind of prison.
At twenty, he had been passionately certain: there’s
just one thing I’m destined for and that’s glory ; that’s
right y glory! He had no idea what kind of glory he
wanted, or what kind he was suited for. He knew only
that in the depths of the world’s darkness was a point of
light which had been provided for him alone and would
draw near some day to irradiate him and no other.
And it seemed increasingly obvious that the world
would have to topple if he was to attain the glory that was
rightfully his. They were consubstantial: glory and the
capsized world. He longed for a storm. But life aboard
ship taught him only the regularity of natural law and
the dynamic stability of the wobbling world. He began to.
examine his hopes and dreams one by one, and one by one
to efface them as a sailor pencils out the days on the
calendar in his cabin.
Sometimes, as he stood watch in the middle of the
night, he could feel his glory knifing towards him like a
shark from some great distance in the darkly heaping
sea, see it almost, aglow like the noctilucae that fire the
water, surging in to flood him with light and cast the
silhouette of his heroic figure against the brink of man’s
world. On those nights, standing in the white pilot-house
amid a clutter of instruments and bronze signal bells,
Ryuji was more convinced than ever:
There must be a special destiny in store for me; a
glittering special-order kind no ordinary man would be
At the same time, he liked popular music. He bought
all the new records and learned them by heart while at
sea and hummed the tunes when he had a minute, stop-
ping when anyone came near. He liked sea shanties (the
rest of the crew scorned them) and his favourite was one
called ‘I Can’t Give Up the Sailor’s Life’.
The whisde wails and streamers tear.
Our ship slips away from the pier.
Now the sea’s my home, I decided that
But even I must shed a tear
As I wave, boys, as I wave so sad
At the harbour town where my heart was glad.
As soon as the noon watch was over he would shut
himself up in his darkening cabin and play the record
again and again until it was time for dinner. He always
turned the volume down because he didn’t want to share
the song; besides, he was afraid a fellow officer might
drop in with some gossip if he happened to hear the
music. The rest of the crew knew how he felt and no one
ever disturbed him.
Sometimes, as he listened to the song or hummed it,
tears brimmed in his eyes, just as in the lyrics. Strange
that a man with no ties should become sentimental about
a ‘harbour town 9 , but the tears welled directly from a
dark, distant, enervated part of himself he had neglected
all his life and couldn’t command.
The actual sight of land receding into the distance
never made him cry. Wharf and docks, cranes and the
roofs of warehouses slipping quietly away, he watched
with contempt in his eye. Once the casting-off had lit a
fire in his breast, but more than ten years at sea had
quelled those flames. He had gained only his sunburn and
Ryuji stood watch and slept, woke up, stood watch and
slept again. He was full of unexpressed feelings, and his
savings steadily increased, for he tried to be alone as much
as possible. He became expert at shooting the sun, he
counted the stars as friends, he mastered the arts of moor-
ing and warping and towing until finally, listening to the
din of waves at night, his ear could discern the surge of
the sea from the slake. While he grew more familiar with
lustrous tropical clouds and the many-coloured coral seas,
the total in his bankbook climbed and now he had almost
two million yen* in the bank, an extraordinary sum for a
He had sampled the pleasures of dissipation too. He
had lost his virginity on his first cruise. They were in
Hong Kong, and a senior officer had taken him to a
Chinese whore . . .
♦Almost £2,000; one pound = 1,000 yen.
Ryu ji lay on the bed letting the fan scatter his cigarette
ash and half closed his eyes as if to weigh in the scales the
quantity and quality of the previous night’s pleasure
against the pitiful sensations of that first experience. Star-
ing into space, he began to see again at the back of his
mind the dark wharves of Hong Kong at night, the turbid
heaviness of water lapping at the pier, the sampans’ feeble
lanterns . . .
In the distance, beyond the forest of masts and the
lowered straw-mat sails of the moored fleet, the glaring
windows and neon signs of Hong Kong outshone the weak
lanterns in the foreground and tinted the black water with
their colours. Ryuji and the older seaman who was his
guide were in a sampan piloted by a middle-aged woman.
The oar in the stem whispered through the water as they
slipped across the narrow harbour. When they came to the
place where the flickering lights were clustered, Ryuji saw
the girls’ rooms bobbing brightly on the water.
The fleet was moored in three long lines so as to form
an inner court of water. All the stems were facing in and
were decorated with sticks of burning incense and red
and green paper flags celebrating regional deities. Flowery
silk cloth lined the semicircular tarpaulin shells on the
flat decks. At the rear of each shell a raised stand, draped
with the same material, held a small mirror: an image of
Ryuji’s sampan wobbled from room to room as they
The girls pretended not to notice them. Some lay
swaddled in quilts, baring to the cold only dollish,
powder-white necks. Others, quilts wrapped around their
thighs, played with fortune-telling cards. The luscious
reds and golds on the faces of the cards glittered between
slender sallow fingers.
‘Which one do you want?’ the officer asked. ‘They’re
Ryuji didn’t answer. He was about to choose the first
woman in his life and, having travelled sixteen hundred
leagues of this bit of dirty, reddish seaweed afloat in the
turbid waters of Hong Kong, he felt curiously fatigued,
perplexed. But the girls were certainly young, and attrac-
tive. He chose before the older man had a chance to offer
The whore had been sitting in silence, her face
puckered in the cold, but as Ryuji stepped on to her boat,
she laughed happily. And he found himself half-
heartedly believing in the happiness he was bringing her.
She drew the flowery curtain over the entrance to the
They performed in silence. He trembled a little out of
vanity, as when he had first scaled the mast. The woman’s
lower body, like a hibernating animal half asleep, moved
lethargically under the quilts; he sensed the stars of night
tilting dangerously at the top of the mast. The stars
slanted into the south, swung to the north, wheeled,
whirled into the east, and seemed finally to be impaled on
the tip of the mast. By the time he realized this was a
woman, it was done . . .
There was a knock on the door and Fusako Kuroda
came into the room with a large breakfast tray. ‘I’m sorry
you had to wait so long. Noboru just left a minute ago.’
Putting the tray down on the tea table, she opened the
curtains and the window. ‘There’s not a bit of breeze. It’s
going to be hot again.’
Even the shade beneath the window ledge was as hot
as burning asphalt. Ryuji sat up in bed and wrapped the
wrinkled sheet around his waist Fusako was dressed to go
out. Her bare arms, moving not to embrace him but to
pour morning coffee into cups, seemed unfamiliar. They
were no longer the arms of the night.
Ryuji beckoned Fusako to the bed and kissed her. The
thin, sensitive skin of her lips betrayed the fluttering of
her eyes: this morning, he knew, she was uneasy even
while her eyes were closed.
‘What time do you go to work? he said.
‘As long as I can be there by eleven. What are you
going to do?
‘I might go down to the dock for a while, just to see
what’s going on.’
They had created in a single night a new situation and
now it appeared to bewilder them. For the moment, their
bewilderment was their only etiquette. Ryuji, with what
he liked to call the unbelievable arrogance of intolerable
people, was calculating how far he might be able to go.
The expression on Fusako’s radiant face suggested a
number of things. Resurrection. Or an utter effacement
from memory. Or even determination to prove to herself
and the world that it had not, in any sense of the word,
been a mistake .
‘Shall we eat over here?’ she suggested, moving to the
couch. Ryuji jumped out of bed and threw on his clothes.
Fusako was standing at the window. ‘I wish we could see
your ship from here.’
‘If that pier wasn’t so far out of town . . .’ Coming up
behind her, Ryuji put his aims around Fusako’s waist.
Together they looked out at the harbour.
The window overlooked the red roofs of old ware-
houses. A block of new warehouses, like concrete apart-
ment buildings, hulked up from the pier to the north.
The canal was buried under sculls and barges. Beyond
the warehouse district piles of seasoning lumber merged
into an intricate wooden mosaic. Extending like a con-
crete finger from the seaward side of the lumber yards, a
long breakwater stretched all the way to the sea.
The summer morning sun lay as thin as a dazzling
sheet of hammered metal across the colossal anvil of the
Ryuji’s fingers touched her nipples through the blue
cotton dress. She tossed her head, her hair tickled his
nose. As always, he felt as if he had travelled some huge
distance, sometimes from the far side of the world, finally
to arrive at a point of delicate sensation - a thrilling in
his fingertips near a window on a summer morning.
The fragrance of coffee and marmalade filled the room.
‘There was something about Noboru this morning,
almost as if he knew. Of course, he seems to like you a
lot, so it doesn’t matter really. ... I still don’t under-
stand how this could have happened. I mean’ - her con-
fusion rang a little false - ‘it’s just incredible!’
Rex Ltd was one of the oldest and best-known luxury
shops in Yokohama’s smart Motomachi district. Since her
husband’s death, Fusako had been running the business
by herself. The Moorish architecture of the small two-
story building was distinctive; the Mosque window set
into the thick white wall at the front of die shop always
contained a tasteful display. Inside, an open mezzanine
much like a veranda overlooked a patio of imported
Spanish tile. A small fountain bubbled in the centre of the
patio. A bronze Bacchus, some Vivax neckties carelessly
draped over its arms, was one of the many curios collected
by Fusako’s husband before his death; these were priced
so as to discourage any would-be buyer.
Fusako employed an elderly manager and four sales-
girls. Among the clientele were wealthy foreigners who
lived in Yokohama, a large number of dandies and film
people from Tokyo, and even some buyers from small
retail shops on the Ginza who came down to forage: Rex
enjoyed a reputation for uncanny discernment of fine
quality, particularly in imported men’s wear and acces-
sories. Both Fusako and the manager, a man called
Shibuya, who possessed her husband’s tastes, were dis-
Whenever a ship docked in Yokohama, an import agent
who was an old friend of the family used his connexions
to get them into the bonded warehouse as soon as the
cargo had been unloaded; often Fusako was able to place a
bid before other buyers had seen the shipment. Her policy
was to emphasize quality labels while providing a wide
price range in every item. Rex’s order for Jaeger sweaters,
for example, would be divided equally between the manu-
facturer’s most exclusive and more modest lines. The same
was true of imported Italian leather: Rex’s selection in-
cluded leather from the tanning school attached to the
Ghiesa Santa Croce in Florence as well as the most ex-
pensive gloves and purses from the Via Condotti.
Though Fusako was unable to travel abroad herself,
because of Noboru, she had sent Mr Shibuya on a buying
trip to Europe the year before, and he had established
new connexions all over the Continent. Shibuya had
devoted his life to elegance in dress: Rex even stocked
English spats, an article not to be found in any of the
Fusako reached the shop at the usual time and was
greeted with the usual morning cordiality. She asked a
few business questions and then went up to her office on
the mezzanine and opened the day’s mail. The air-con-
ditioner in the window whirred solemnly.
Being able to sit at her desk at the usual time was a
great relief. It had to be this way. Today of all days, she
couldn’t imagine what might have happened if she had
stayed at home from work.
She took a lady’s cigarette from her purse and glanced,
as she lit it, at the memo book on her desk. Yoriko Kasuga,
a film actress on location in Yokohama, was due to arrive
at noon for some colossal shopping; she had just returned
from a film festival in Europe and, having spent all her
gift money on other things, hoped to cover up with
presents from Rex. ‘Some stunning French accessories,’
she had telephoned to say, ‘for about twenty men - pick
out whatever you like.’ Later in the afternoon, a private
secretary from Yokohama Importers was coming over to
pick up some of the Italian polo shirts her boss, the com-
pany president, wore on the golf links. Faithful customers,
these women were remarkably easy to please.
A part of the patio was visible beneath the louvered
swinging doors. It was hushed. The tips of leaves on a
rubber tree in one comer shone with a dull lustre. Appar-
ently no one had arrived yet.
Fusako was worried that Mr Shibuya might have
noticed what felt to her like a flush around her eyes. The
old man looked at a woman as though he were examining
a piece of fabric in his hand. Even if she was his employer.
She had never actually counted until that morning: five
years since her husband’s death! It hadn’t seemed so
long in passing, but all of a sudden, like a white obi she
would never be able to wind up, five years was a dizzying
Fusako teased the ashtray with her cigarette and then
stubbed it out. The man still nested in every nook of her
body. She was aware of her flesh beneath the clothes as
continuous, thigh and breast in warm accordance: it was
a new sensation. And she could still smell the sweat of the
man. As if to test them, she curled her stockinged toes.
Fusako had met Ryuji for the first time two days be-
fore. Noboru, who was a fanatic about ships, had
wheedled her into asking a shipping executive friend for
a letter of introduction, and they had gone to see the
Rakuyo , a ten-thousand-ton freighter anchored at Taka-
shima Pier . . .
Stopping for a minute at the far end of the dock,
mother and son had gazed at the cream-and-green-
coloured ship gleaming in the distance. Fusako unfurled a
parasol with a long white snakeskin handle.
‘You see those ships out in the offing?’ Noboru said
knowingly. ‘They’re all waiting their turn for a vacant
‘That’s why our shipments are always so late getting
in,’ Fusako drawled. She felt hot just looking up at the
The cloud-dappled sky was partitioned by an intricate
criss-cross of hawsers; and lifted towards it in reverence
like a slender chin was the Rakuyo ’ s bow, infinitely high,
the green banner of the fleet fluttering at its crest. The
anchor clung to the hawsehole like a large metal-black
‘This is going to be terrific,’ Noboru said, brimming
over with boyish excitement. ‘I guess we’ll be able to look
her over fore and aft.’
‘Let’s not expect too much, dear, until we’re certain
this letter is what we need.’
Thinking about it later, Fusako realized that she had
felt her heart begin to dance even as they had stood look-
ing up at the ship. That’s funny; I’m just as excited as
The feeling beset her at the height of her languor -
just lifting her head was a hot and wearisome chore - sud-
denly and for no reason.
‘She’s a flush deck. Mum - looks a pretty good ship all
right.’ Unable to contain the knowledge that crowded his
brain, Noboru held forth to his indifferent mother; as
they drew closer, the Rakuyo swelled before them like
great music. Noboru sprinted ahead and raced up the
glittering, silvery gangplank.
But Fusako had to wander down the corridor in front
of the officers’ quarters, helplessly clutching her letter to
the Captain. The decks, where unloading was in progress,
were bustling and noisy, but the stuffy corridor was un-
Then a cabin door marked ‘Second Officer’ opened
and Tsukazaki appeared.
‘ Can you tell me where I might find the Captain ?’
‘He’s not here now. Can I help you ?’
Fusako showed him the letter; Noboru, eyes shining,
gaped up at the sailor.
‘I see - a kind of study trip. I suppose I can show you
round.’ His manner was brusque, his gaze never left her
face as he spoke.
That was their first encounter. She would never forget
his eyes as he confronted her in the corridor. Deep-set in
the disgruntled, swarthy face, they sought her out as
though she were a tiny spot on the horizon, the first sign
of a distant ship. That, at least, was the feeling she had.
Eyes viewing an object so near had no business piercing
that way, focusing so sharply - without leagues of sea
between them, it was unnatural. She wondered if all
eyes that endlessly scanned the horizon were that way.
Unlooked-for signs of a ship descried - misgivings and
delight, wariness and expectation . . . the sighted vessel
just barely able to forgive the affront because of the vast
reach of sea between them: a ravaging gaze. The sailor’s
eyes made her shudder.
Tsukazaki took them to the bridge first. The ladder they
climbed to the main deck was obliquely runged with bars
of summer sunlight. Indicating the freighters anchored
offshore, Noboru repeated his knowing observation: T
suppose all those ships are waiting their turn for a berth
‘ Quite right, sonny. Some of them may have to wait out
there four or five days.’
‘Do they notify you on the wireless when a berth is
‘Right again. You get a cable from the company.
There’s a committee that meets every day to decide berth
Sweat was dappling Tsukazaki’s white shirt with little
spots which revealed the flesh of his powerful back;
Fusako was disconcerted. She was grateful to the man for
taking Noboru seriously but he made her uncomfortable
when he turned to her and asked direct questions. ‘The
boy knows what he’s talking about. Does he want to be a
sailor ? ’ His eyes probed her again.
He seemed a rugged, simple man, yet there was also
about him an air of indifference and Fusako couldn’t
determine whether he felt any professional pride. When,
opening her parasol against the sun and peering narrowly
up at his face, she tried to decide, she thought she dis-
covered something unexpected in the shadow of his heavy
brows. Something she had never seen in the broad light
‘He’d be wise to forget about it if he is. This is a miser-
able business if ever there was one,’ Tsukazaki said, not
bothering to wait for her answer. ‘Over here, sonny; this
is a mounted sextant/ The instrument he slapped looked
like a white mushroom on a long stem.
When they went into the pilot-house, Noboru wanted
to touch everything: the speaking tube to the engine room
and the automatic-pilot gyro; radar screens; the elec-
tronic channel selector. The indicator reading stop -
stand by - ahead and countless other gauges and dials
seemed to summon visions of peril on the open sea. In the
chart room next door, he gaped at shelves stacked with
maps and tables, and studied an erasure-smudged chart
still in the drafting. The chart laced the sea with cap-
ricious lines which appeared and reappeared according
to some curious un-geometry. Most fascinating of all was
the daily log: sunrise and sunset were entered as small
semicircles, a pair of golden horns marked the passage of
the moon, and the ebb and surge of the tides were shown
in gentle, rippling curves.
While Noboru wandered through private dreams
Tsukazaki stood at Fusako’s side, and the heat of his body
in the sultry chart room was beginning to oppress her:
when the parasol she had leaned against a desk clattered
suddenly to the floor, she felt as if she herself, fainting, had
She gave a little cry. The parasol had glanced off her
foot. The sailor stooped immediately and picked it up.
To Fusako he seemed to move as slowly as a diver under
water. He retrieved the parasol and then, from the bottom
erf this sea of breathless time, his white cap rose slowly
towards the surface ...
Shibuya pushed through the louvered office doors and
announced: ‘Yoriko Kasuga has just arrived . 5
‘All right ! I’ll be right down . 5
The old man had recalled her too abruptly; she re-
gretted her tinny, reflex reply.
She studied her face for a minute in a mirror hanging
on the wall. She felt as if she were still standing in the
Yoriko was in the patio with one of her ladies-in-
waiting. She was wearing a huge sunflower of a hat.
‘I want Mama to do all the choosing. I’m just helpless . 5
Fusako objected to being called ‘Mama 5 as though she
were the proprietress of a bar. She descended the stairs
slowly and walked over to where Yoriko stood chatting.
‘And how are you today? It certainly is hot again . 5 The
actress complained about the devastating heat and the
crowds at the pier where they were filming. Fusako pic-
tured Ryuji somewhere in the throng and her spirits
‘Thirty cuts this morning - can you imagine that?
That’s what Mr Honda called “racing through a pic-
ture 55 . 5
‘ Will the film be good ? 5
‘Not a chance. But it’s not the kind of picture that
takes prizes anyway . 5
Winning a best-actress award had become an obsession
with Yoriko. In fact, the gifts she was buying today con-
stituted one of her inimitable ‘gestures 5 towards the
awards jury. Her willingness to believe any scandal
(except one involving herself) suggested that she would
proffer her body to every member of the jury without
hesitation if she thought that might help.
Though she managed with difficulty to support a family
of ten, Yoriko was a gullible beauty and, as Fusako well
knew, a very lonely woman. Still, except that she was a
good customer, Fusako found her almost intolerable.
But today Fusako was enveloped in paralysing gentle-
ness. Yoriko’s flaws and her vulgarity were apparent as
always, but they seemed as cool and inoffensive as gold-
fish swimming in a bowl.
‘At first I thought sweaters might be nice, since it’s
almost autumn, but these are supposed to be things you
bought this summer, so I picked out some Cal din ties and
some polo shirts and a few Jiff pens. For the wives, I don’t
think you can go wrong with perfume. Shall we go up-
stairs ? I have everything together in the office.’
‘I’d love to but I just don’t have time. I’ll barely have
time for a bite of lunch as it is. Can I leave everything to
you ? The important things are the boxes and wrapping -
they’re the essence of a gift, don’t you think?’
‘We’ll pack everything beautifully.’
The secretary from Yokohama Importers arrived just
as Yoriko was leaving, and she was the last regular cus-
tomer for the day. Fusako had the sandwich and cup of
tea she ordered every day from a coffee shop across the
street brought up to her office, and sat down in front of
the tray, alone again. Arranging herself comfortably in
the chair like a sleeper burrowing under the covers in an
attempt to recapture an interrupted dream, she closed her
eyes and returned effortlessly to the bridge of the
Rakuyo . . .
Tsukazaki led them down flights of stairs to the boat
deck, whence they could watch cargo being raised from
the No. 4 hold. The hatch was a large, dark fissure in the
steel plates of the deck at their feet. A man in a yellow
steel helmet standing on a narrow ledge just below them
was directing the crane with hand signals.
The half-naked bodies of stevedores glistened dully
in the dusk at the bottom of the hold. The cargo first
took the sun when it was hoisted wobbling up from the
bottom high into the mouth of the hatch. Slats of sun-
light slipped nimbly over the crates as they wheeled
through the air, but faster even than the shattered light
the cargo sped, and was hovering above the waiting
The terrifying deliberate prelude and the sudden, reck-
less flight; the dangerous glitter of silver in a twist of fray-
ing cable - standing under her open parasol, Fusako
watched it all. She felt load after heavy load of freight
being lifted from her and whisked away on the powerful
arm of a crane - suddenly, but after long and careful
preparation. She thrilled to the sight of cargo no man
could move winging lightly into the sky, and she could
have watched for ever. This may have been a fitting
destiny for cargo but the marvel was also an indignity. ‘It
keeps getting emptier and emptier,’ she thought. The ad-
vance was relentless, yet there was time for hesitation and
languor, time so hot and long it made you faint; sluggish,
She must have spoken then: ‘It’s been so kind of you to
show us round when I know you must be very busy. I was
wondering, if you’re free tomorrow evening, perhaps we
could have dinner together?’
It was a sociable invitation and no doubt Fusako spoke
the words coolly; to Tsukazaki’s ear, it sounded like the
babbling of a woman stricken with the heat. He looked at
her with perfectly honest, puzzled eyes . . .
The night before, they had gone to the New Grand
Hotel for dinner. I was still just trying to thank him then.
He ate so properly , just like an officer . That long walk
after dinner . He said he’d walk me home 9 but we got to
the new park on the hill and didn’t feel like saying good
night yet , so ipe sat down on a park bench . Then we had
a long talk . Just rambled on about all kinds of things.
I’ve never talked so much with a man before , not since
my husband died . . .
After leaving Fusako on her way to work, Ryuji returned
briefly to the Rakuyo and then took a taxi back through
empty, simmering streets to the park where they had
stopped the night before. He couldn’t think of anywhere
else to go until late afternoon, when they had arranged
It was midday and the park was empty. The drinking
fountain was overflowing, dyeing the stone walk a watery
black; locusts were shrilling in the cypress trees. The har-
bour, sprawling towards the sea from the foot of the hill,
rumbled thickly. But Ryuji painted out the noontime
scene with reminiscences of night.
He relived the evening, paused to savour a moment,
traced and traced again the night’s course. Not bothering
to wipe the sweat from his face, he picked absently at a
piece of cigarette paper that clung to his lip while again
and again his mind moaned: how could I have talked so
He hadn’t been able to explain his ideas of glory and
death, or the longing and the melancholy pent up in his
chest, or the other dark passions choking in the ocean’s
swell. Whenever he tried to talk about these things, he
failed. If there were times when he felt he was worthless,
there were others when something like the magnificence of
the sunset over Manila Bay sent its radiant fire through
him and he knew that he had been chosen to tower above
other men. But he hadn’t been able to tell the woman
about his conviction. He remembered her asking: 4 Why
haven’t you ever married?’ And he remembered his sim-
pering answer: ‘It’s not easy to find a woman who is
willing to be a sailor’s wife.’
What he had wanted to say was: ‘All the other officers
have two or three children by now and they read letters
from home over and over again, and look at pictures their
kids have drawn of houses and the sun and flowers. Those
men have thrown their opportunity away - there’s no
hope for them any more. I’ve never done much, but I’ve
lived my whole life thinking of myself as the only real
man. And if I’m right, then a limpid, lonely horn is going
to trumpet through the dawn some day, and a turgid
cloud laced with light will sweep down, and the poignant
voice of glory will call for me from the distance - and I’ll
have to jump out of bed and set out alone. That’s why
I’ve never married. I’ve waited, and waited, and here I
am past thirty.’
But he hadn’t said anything like that; partly because he
doubted whether a woman would understand. Nor had
he mentioned his concept of ideal love: a man encounters
the perfect woman only once in a lifetime and in every
case death interposes - an unseen Pandarus - and lures
them into the preordained embrace. This fantasy was
probably a product of the hyperbole of popular songs. But
over the years it had taken on substance in some recess of
his mind and merged there with other things: the shriek-
ing of a tidal wave, the ineluctable force of high tide, the
avalanching break of surf upon a shoal . . .
And he had been certain that the woman before him
was the woman in the dream. If only he had found the
words to say it.
In the grand dream Ryuji had treasured secretly for so
long, he was a paragon of manliness and she the consum-
mate woman; and from the opposite comers of the earth
they came together in a chance encounter, and death
wed them. Outdistancing tawdry farewells then, with
streamers waving and strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and
far from sailors 5 fickle loves, they were to descend to the
bottom of the heart’s great deep where no man has ever
been . . .
But he hadn’t been able to share even a fragment of
his mad dream. Instead he had talked of vegetables:
‘Every once in a while when you’re on a long cruise and
you pass the galley you catch just a glimpse of radish or
maybe turnip leaves. And you know, those little splashes
of green make you tingle all over. You feel like getting
down on your knees and worshipping them.’
‘I can imagine. I think I know just how you must feel,’
Fusako agreed eagerly. Her voice oozed the joy a woman
takes in consoling a man.
Ryuji asked for her fan and shooed the mosquitoes
away. Lamps on distant masts twinkled like ochre stars;
bulbs in the eaves of the warehouses directly below
stretched in regular, bright rows.
He wanted to talk about the strange passion that
catches hold of a man by the scruff of his neck and trans-
ports him to a realm beyond the fear of death. But far
from finding words for that, he volunteered an account
of the hardships he had known, and clucked his tongue.
His father, a civil servant, had raised him and his sister
singlehanded after their mother’s death; the sickly old
man had worked overtime in order to send Ryuji to
school; despite everything, Ryuji had grown up into a
strong, healthy man; late in the war his home had been
destroyed in an air raid and his sister had died of typhus
shortly after; he had graduated from the merchant-
marine high school and was just starting on his career
when his father died too; his only memories of life on
shore were of poverty and sickness and death, of endless
devastation; by becoming a sailor, he had detached him-
self from the land for ever. ... It was the first time he had
talked of these things at such length to a woman.
Exaltation swelled Ryuji’s voice when he touched on
the misery in his life, and while he was recalling the total
in his bankbook he couldn’t help digressing from the sea’s
power and benevolence, which was the story he had
longed to tell, in order to boast about his own prowess
like a very ordinary man indeed. It was just another par-
ticular aspect of his vanity.
He wanted to talk about the sea - he might have said
something like this: ‘It was the sea that made me begin
thinking secretly about love more than anything else;
you know, a love worth dying for, or a love that consumes
you. To a man locked up in a steel ship all the time, the
sea is too much like a woman. Things like her lulls and
storms, or her caprice, or the beauty of her breast reflect-
ing the setting sun, are all obvious. More than that,
you’re in a ship that mounts the sea and rides her and yet
is constantly denied her. It’s the old saying about miles
and miles of lovely water and you can’t quench your
thirst. Nature surrounds a sailor with all these elements
so like a woman and yet he is kept as far as a man can
be from her warm, living body. That’s where the problem
begins, right there - I’m sure of it.’
But he could only mouth a few lines of his song: Now
the sea’s my home > I decided that . But even I must shed
a tear . . . . T guess that’s pretty funny. It’s my favourite
T think it’s a wonderful song,’ she said. But she was
only shielding his pride, he knew. Obviously this was the
first time she had ever heard the song, though she pre-
tended to know it well. She can’t penetrate to the feelings
deep down in a song like this; or see through the murk
of my manhood to the longing that sometimes makes me
weep; fair enough: then as far as I’m concerned \ she’s
just another body .
He saw at a glance how delicate and how fragrant a
body it was.
Fusako was wearing a black lace kimono over a crimson
under-robe, and her obi was white brocade. Her milky
face floated coolly in the dusk. Crimson peeped seduc-
tively through the black lace. She was a presence suffus-
ing the air around them with the softness of being a
woman; an extravagant, elegant woman - Ryuji had
never seen anything like her.
The robe shifted fantastically from crimson through
shades of purple as every subtle movement of her body
altered the play of light from the distant lamps; and he
detected within the shadowed folds of cloth the hushed
breathing of the woman’s own folds. Her sweat and
perfumed fragrance reaching him on the breeze seemed to
clamour for his death, ‘die! die! die!’ it screamed; and
he imagined the time when her delicate fingertips, stealthy
now and reluctant, would quicken into tongues of flame.
Her nose was perfect; her lips exquisite. Like a master
placing a go stone on the board after long deliberation,
he placed the details of her beauty one by one in the misty
dark and drew back to savour them.
Her eyes were quiet, and icy, and their chill was lewd-
ness itself, indifference to the world become reckless
lechery. Her eyes had haunted Ryu ji since they had agreed
to meet for dinner the day before; they had kept him
awake all night.
And what voluptuous shoulders! Like the shoreline,
they began with no real beginning, to slope gently down-
ward from the nape of her neck; gracious, dignified shoul-
ders fashioned so that silk might slip and fall away. When
I hold her breasts they’ll nestle against my palms with
a marvellous , sweaty heaviness . I feel responsible for all
this woman’s flesh because it teases me softly like other
things that are mine . I’m trembling with the sweetness of
her being here , and when she feels me tremble she’ll tilt
up like a leaf in a wind-tossed tree and show the white
backs of those eyes of hers .
An odd, silly story thrust abruptly into Ryuji’s mind.
Once the Captain had told him about going to Venice
and visiting a beautiful little palace at high tide; and
being astounded to find when he got there that the marble
floors were under water. . . . Ryuji almost spoke the words
aloud : small beautiful flooded palace.
‘Please talk more/ Fusako begged, and he knew it
would be all right to kiss her. The smooth, inflamed play
of their lips altered subtly with every contact and clinging
release as from angle after angle they poured each other
full of light, spinning into a single luminous thread of
softness and of sweetness. The shoulders under his rough
hands now were more real than any dream.
Like an insect folding in its wings, Fusako lowered her
long lashes. Happiness enough to drive a man crazy,
Ryuji thought. Happiness that defied description. At first
Fusako’s breath seemed to climb from somewhere in her
chest, but gradually its heat and odour changed until it
might have issued from some unfathomable depth within
her. Now the fuel firing her breath was different too.
They clutched at each other and collided in frenzied,
awkward movements like beasts in a forest lunging at a
ring of fire. Fusako’s lips softened and became smoother;
Ryuji was ready to die happily that very moment. Only
when the cool tips of their noses brushed did he realize
with a chuckle that they were two firm, separate bodies.
He didn’t know how much time passed before, point-
ing towards a slate roof jutting above the cypress trees at
the edge of the park, she said : ‘Why don’t you stay with
us tonight ? That’s our house over there.’
They stood up and looked around. Ryuji jammed his
cap on his head and put his arm around Fusako’s shoul-
ders. The park was empty; the red-and-green beacon in
the Marine Tower swept across stone benches in the
empty square, the drinking fountain, flower beds, and
white stone steps.
From habit, Ryuji glanced at his watch. He could just
see the dial in the light from the street lamp outside the
park: a few minutes past ten. Ordinarily, he would have
two hours until night watch . . .
He couldn’t take any more of the noonday heat. The
sun was in the west now, frying the back of his head: he
had left his cap on the Rakuyo .
The First Mate had given Ryuji a two-day leave,
assigning his watch to the Third Mate with the under-
standing that Ryuji would stand in for him at the next
port. He had changed clothes on the ship and had with
him a sports jacket and tie he planned to wear that even-
ing, but already sweat had bedraggled his dress shirt.
He looked at his watch. It was only four o’clock. His
date with Fusako was for six. The coffee shop where they
had arranged to meet had colour television apparently —
but there wouldn’t be anything interesting on at this
hour of the day.
Ryuji walked over to the park railing and looked out
at the harbour. The warehouse roofs below were extend-
ing their three-corner shadows towards the foreshore. One
white sail was tacking back to the yacht basin. He
watched the sun sculpture a brace of tensed muscles in
marvellous detail in the snow-white blocks of cloud piled
above the offing. They were storm clouds all right, but not
swollen enough for an evening squall.
The memory of a mischievous game he had often
played as a child drew him across the lawn to the drinking
fountain. Closing the mouth of the fountain with his
thumb, he squirted a fan of water at the dahlias and white
chrysanthemums languishing in the heat : leaves quivered,
a small rainbow arched, flowers recoiled. Ryuji reversed
the pressure of his thumb and doused his hair and face
and throat. The water trickled from his throat to his chest
and belly, spinning a soft, cooling screen - an indescrib-
Ryuji shook himself all over like a dog and, carrying
his sports jacket over his arm, moved towards the en-
trance of the park. His shirt was drenched but he didn’t
bother to take it off : the sun would dry it quickly enough.
Ryuji left the park. He marvelled at the serenity of the
houses that lined the streets, at the sturdy roofs and
rooted, unbudging fences. As always, the details of shore
life appeared abstract and unreal. Even when he passed
an open kitchen and glimpsed the glitter of polished pots
and pans, everything lacked concreteness. His sexual
desires too, the more so because they were physical,
he apprehended as pure abstraction; lusts which time
had relegated to memory remained only as glistening
essences, like salt crystallized at the surface of a com-
pound. We’ll go to bed together again tonight - this
one’s the last: we probably won’t sleep at all . I sail to-
morrow evening . I wouldn’t be surprised if I evaporated
faster than a damned memory , thanks to these two fan-
tastic nights ...
The heat wasn’t making him sleepy. But imagination
whetted his lust as he walked along and he narrowly
avoided a large foreign car that came roaring up the hill.
Then he saw a group of boys break on to the main road
from a footpath near the bottom of the hill. Seeing him,
one of them stopped short - it was Noboru. Ryuji noticed
the boyish kneecaps below the shorts tighten abruptly, saw
tension cramp the face peering up at him; and he recalled
what Fusako had said: There was something about
Noboru this morning ; almost as if he knew . . . . Battling
with a part of himself that threatened to be flustered in
front of the boy, Ryuji forced a smile and yelled: ‘Hey!
Small world, isn’t it ? Have a good swim ?’ The boy didn’t
answer; his clear, dispassionate gaze was fixed on Ryuji’s
‘Why - how did your shirt get soaked like that ?’
‘What, this? 9 The artificial smile spread over his face
again. ‘I took a little shower at the fountain up there in
the park. 9
Running into Ryuji near the park worried Noboru. He
wondered what he could do to keep the sailor from telling
his mother about the meeting. In the first place, he hadn’t
gone swimming at Kamakura as the adults supposed.
Besides, one of the boys in the group Ryuji had seen was
the Chief. But that wasn’t so bad. No one would be able
to tell him from the others just by looking - not a chance.
That morning, the boys had left the city with packed
lunches and gone all the way to Yamauchi Pier in
Kanagawa. For a while they had roamed around the rail-
way siding behind the sheds on the wharf, and then held
the usual meeting to discuss the uselessness of Mankind,
the insignificance of Life. They liked an insecure meeting
place where intrusion was always a possibility.
The Chief, Number One, Number Two, Noboru (who
was Number Three), Number Four, and Number Five
were all smallish, delicate boys and excellent students. In
fact most of their teachers lavished praise on this out-
standing group and even held it up as an encouraging
example to poorer students.
Number Two had discovered that morning’s meeting
place and all the others had approved. Behind a large
shed marked ‘City Maintenance A’ a rusty railway siding,
apparently in long disuse, crawled through high wild
chrysanthemums and old abandoned tyres across an un-
kempt field. Far away in the small garden in front of the
warehouse office, canna flowers were blazing in the sun.
They were dwindling, end-of-summer flames, but so long
as they were visible the boys didn’t feel free from the
watchman’s eye, so they turned away and followed the
siding back from the shed. The track stopped in front of
a black heavily bolted warehouse door. They discovered
to one side of the warehouse a patch of grass hidden by a
high wall of red and yellow and deep-brown drums, and
sat down. The garish sun was edging towards the summit
of the roof but the little lawn was still in shade.
‘That sailor is terrific ! He’s like a fantastic beast that’s
just come out of the sea all dripping wet. Last night I
watched him go to bed with my mother.’
Noboru began an excited account of what he had wit-
nessed the night before. The boys kept their faces blank,
but he could feel every eye on him and the straining to
catch every word, and he was satisfied.
‘And that’s your hero?’ the Chief said when he had
finished. His thin red upper lip had a tendency to curl
when he spoke. ‘Don’t you realize there is no such thing
as a hero in this world ? ’
‘But he’s different. He’s really going to do something.’
‘Oh? Like what, for instance ?’
‘I can’t say exactly, but it’ll be something . . . terrific.’
‘Are you kidding? A guy like that never does anything.
He’s probably after your old lady’s money; that’ll be the
punch line. First he’ll suck her out of everything she’s got
and then, bang, bam, see you around, ma’am - that’ll be
the punch line.’
‘Well even that’s something, isn’t it? Something we
‘Your ideas about people are still pretty naive,’ the
thirteen-year-old Chief said coldly. ‘No adult is going to
be able to do something we couldn’t do. There’s a huge
seal called “impossibility” pasted all over this world. And
don’t ever forget that we’re the only ones who can tear it
off once and for all.’ Awe-stricken, the others fell silent.
‘How about your people?’ the Chief asked, turning to
Number Two. ‘I suppose they still won’t buy you an air
‘Nerp - I guess it’s hopeless,’ the boy crooned to him-
self, arms hugging his knees.
‘They probably say it would be dangerous, don’t
‘Yes . .
‘That’s crap ! ’ Dimples dented the Chief’s cheeks, white
even in summer. ‘They don’t even know the definition of
danger. They think danger means something physical,
getting scratched and a little blood running and the news-
papers making a big fuss. Well, that hasn’t got anything
to do with it. Real danger is nothing more than just
living. Of course, living is merely the chaos of existence,
but more than that it’s a crazy mixed-up business of dis-
mantling existence instant by instant to the point where
the original chaos is restored, and taking strength from
the uncertainty and the fear that chaos brings to re-create
existence instant by instant. You won’t find another job
as dangerous as that. There isn’t any fear in existence
itself, or any uncertainty, but living creates it. And
society is basically meaningless, a Roman mixed bath.
And school, school is just society in miniature: that’s
why we’re always being ordered around. A bunch of
blind men tell us what to do, tear our unlimited ability to
‘But how about the sea?’ Noboru persisted. ‘How
about a ship ? Last night I’m sure I caught the meaning
of the internal order of life you talked about.’
‘I suppose the sea is permissible to a certain extent.’ The
Chief took a deep breath of the salt breeze blowing in
between the sheds. ‘As a matter of fact, it’s probably more
permissible than any of the few other permissible things.
I don’t know about a ship though. I don’t see why a ship
is any different from a car.’
‘Because you don’t understand.’
‘Is that right? . . .’ An expression of chagrin at this
blow to his pride appeared between the Chief’s thin,
crescent-shaped eyebrows. Their artificial look, as though
they were painted on, was the barber’s fault: he insisted,
despite the Chief’s protestations, on shaving his brow and
above his eyelids. ‘Is that right? Since when is it your
place to tell me what I understand and what I don’t?’
‘C’mon, let’s eat.’ Number Five was a quiet, gentle boy.
They had just unwrapped their lunches on their laps
when Noboru noticed a shadow fall across the lawn and
looked up in surprise. The old watchman from the ware-
house, his elbows propped on a drum, was peering in at
‘You boys certainly picked a messy place for a picnic.’
With admirable poise, the Chief beamed a scrubbed,
schoolboy smile at the old man and said: ‘Would it be
better for us to go somewhere else? We came down to
watch the ships, and then we were looking for a shady
place to have lunch . . .’
‘Go right ahead; you’re not doing any harm. Just be
sure not to leave any litter around.’
‘Yes, sir.’ The smiles were boyish, innocent. ‘You don’t
have to worry about that - we’re hungry enough to eat
the wrappings and everything; right, you fellows?’
They watched the hunchback shuffle down the path,
treading the border between sunlight and shadow. Num-
ber Four was the first to speak: ‘There are plenty of that
type around - about as common as you can get, and he
just loves “the youngsters”. I’ll bet he felt so generous
The boys shared the sandwiches and raw vegetables
and little cakes in their lunches and drank iced tea from
small thermos bottles. A few sparrows flew in over the
siding and alighted just outside their circle, but no one
shared even a crumb with the birds. Matchless inhumanity
was a point of pride with every one of them.
These were children from ‘good homes’, and their
mothers had packed them rich and varied lunches:
Noboru was a little ashamed of the plainish sandwiches
he had brought. They sat cross-legged on the ground,
some in shorts, some in dungarees. The Chief’s throat
laboured painfully as he wolfed his food.
It was very hot. Now the sun was flaming directly
above the warehouse roof, the shallow eaves barely pro-
Noboru munched his food in nervous haste, a habit his
mother often scolded him for, squinting upwards into the
glare as he ate as if to catch the sun in his open mouth. He
recalled the painting he had seen the night before. It
captured almost perfectly the absolute blue of the night
sky. The Chief maintained that there was nothing new
to be found anywhere in the world, but Noboru still
believed in the adventure lurking in some remote tropical
land. And he believed in the many-coloured market at the
hub and clamour and confusion in some distant seaport,
in the bananas and parrots sold from the glistening arms
of black natives.
‘You’re daydreaming while you eat, aren’t you ? That’s
a child’s habit.’ Noboru didn’t answer; he wasn’t equal to
the scorn in the Chief’s voice. Besides, he reasoned, getting
mad would only look silly because they were practising
Noboru had been trained in such a way that practically
nothing sexual, not even that scene the night before, could
surprise him. The Chief had taken great pains to ensure
that none of the gang would be abashed by such a sight.
Somehow he had managed to obtain photographs pictur-
ing intercourse in every conceivable position and a re-
markable selection of pre-coital techniques, and had
explained them all in detail, instructing the boys with some
warmth about the insignificance, the unworthiness of such
As a rule a boy with merely a physical edge on his class-
mates presides at lessons such as these, but the Chief’s
case was altogether different: he appealed directly to the
intellect. To begin with, he maintained that their genitals
were for copulating with stars in the Milky Way. Their
pubic hair, indigo roots buried deep beneath white skin
and a few strands already strong and thickening, would
grow out in order to tickle coy stardust when the rape
occurred. . . . This kind of hallowed raving enchanted
them and they disdained their classmates, foolish, dirty,
pitiful boys brimming with curiosity about sex.
‘When we’ve finished eating we’ll go over to my place,’
the Chief said. ‘Everything’s all ready for you know
‘Got a cat?’
‘Not yet, but it won’t take long to find one. Nothing
will take long.’
Since the Chiefs house was near Noboru’s, they had to
take another train to get there : the boys liked this sort of
unnecessary, troublesome excursion.
The Chief’s parents were never at home ; his house was
always quiet. A solitary boy, he had read at thirteen every
book in the house and was always bored. He claimed he
could tell what any book was about just by looking at the
There were indications that this hollow house had
nourished the Chief’s ideas about the overwhelming
emptiness of the world. Noboru had never seen so many
entrances and exits, so many prim, chilly rooms. The
house even made him afraid to go to the bathroom alone :
foghorns in the harbour echoed emptily from room to
Sometimes, ushering the boys into his father’s study
and sitting down in front of a handsome morocco-
leather desk set, the Chief would write out topics for
discussion, moving his pen importantly between inkwell
and copper-engraved stationery. Whenever he made a
mistake, he would crumple the thick imported paper
and toss it carelessly away. Once Noboru had asked:
‘Won’t your old man get mad if you do that?’ The
Chief had rewarded him with silence and a derisive
But they all loved a large shed in the garden at the back
where they could go without passing under the butler’s
eye. Except for a few logs and some shelves full of tools
and empty wine bottles and back issues of foreign maga-
zines, the floor of the shed was bare, and when they sat
down on the damp dark earth its coolness passed directly
to their buttocks.
After hunting for an hour, they found a stray cat small
enough to ride in the palm of Noboru’s hand, a mottled,
mewing kitten with lacklustre eyes.
By then they were sweating heavily, so they undressed
and took turns splashing in a sink in one comer of the
shed. While they bathed, the kitten was passed around.
Noboru felt the kitten’s hot heart pumping against his wet
naked chest. It was like having stolen into the shed with
some of the dark, joy-flushed essence of bright summer
‘How are we going to do it ? 5
‘There’s a log over there. We can smack it against
that - it’ll be easy. Go ahead, Number Three.’
At last the test of Noboru’s hard, cold heart ! Just a
minute before, he had taken a cold bath, but he was
sweating heavily again. He felt it blow up through his
breast like the morning sea breeze: intent to kill. His chest
felt like a clothes rack made of hollow metal poles and
hung with white shirts drying in the sun. Soon the shirts
would be flapping in the wind and then he would be
killing, breaking the endless chain of society’s loathsome
Noboru seized the kitten by the neck and stood up. It
dangled dumbly from his fingers. He checked himself for
pity ; like a lighted window seen from an express train, it
flickered for an instant in the distance and disappeared.
He was relieved.
The Chief always insisted it would take acts such as
this to fill the world’s great hollows. Though nothing else
could do it, he said, murder would fill those gaping caves
in much the same way that a crack along its face will fill a
mirror. Then they would achieve real power over
Resolved, Noboru swung the kitten high above his head
and slammed it at the log. The warm soft thing hurtled
through the air in marvellous flight. But the sensation of
down between his fingers lingered.
‘It’s not dead yet. Do it again/ the Chief ordered.
Scattered through the gloom in the shed, the five naked
boys stood rooted, their eyes glittering.
What Noboru lifted between two fingers now was no
longer a kitten. A resplendent power was surging through
him to the tips of his fingers and he had only to lift the
dazzling arc seared into the air by this power and hurl it
again and again at the log. He felt like a giant of a man.
Just once, at the second impact, the kitten raised a short,
gurgling cry ...
The kitten had bounced off the log for the last time. Its
hind legs twitched, traced large lax circles in the dirt floor,
and then subsided. The boys were overjoyed at the
spattered blood on the log.
As if staring into a deep well, Noboru peered after the
kitten as it plummeted down the small hole of death.
He sensed in the way he lowered his face to the corpse
his own gallant tenderness, tenderness so clinical it was
almost kind. Dull red blood oozed from the kitten’s nose
and mouth, the twisted tongue was clamped against the
‘C’mon up close where you can see. I’ll take it from
here.’ Unnoticed, the Chief had put on a pair of rubber
gloves that reached up to his elbows; now he bent over
the corpse with a pair of gleaming scissors. Shining coolly
through the gloom of the shed, the scissors were magnifi-
cent in their cold, intellectual dignity: Noboru couldn’t
imagine a more appropriate weapon for the Chief.
Seizing the kitten by the neck, the Chief pierced the
skin at the chest with the point of the blade and scissored
a long smooth cut to the throat. Then he pushed the skin
to the sides with both hands; the glossy layer of fat be-
neath was like a peeled spring onion. The skinned neck
draped gracefully on the floor, seemed to be wearing a
cat mask. The cat was only an exterior; life had posed as
But beneath the surface was a smooth expressionless
interior, a placid, glossy-white inner life in perfect con-
sonance with Noboru and the others; and they could
feel their own intricate, soot-black insides bearing down
upon and shadowing it like ships moving upon the water.
Now, at last, the boys and the cat, or, more accurately,
what had been a cat, became perfectly at one.
Gradually the endoderm was bared; its transparent
mother-of-pearl loveliness was not at all repellent. They
could see through to the ribs now, and watch, beneath
the great momentum, the warm, homey pulsing of the
4 What do you think? Doesn’t it look too naked? I’m
not sure that’s such a good thing: like it was bad manners
or something.’ The Chief peeled aside the skin on the
trunk with his gloved hands.
Tt’s naked all right,’ said Number Two.
Noboru tried to compare the corpse confronting the
world so nakedly with what might have seemed the un-
surpassably naked figures of his mother and the sailor; by
comparison, they weren’t naked enough. They were still
swaddled in skin. Even that marvellous horn and the great
wide world whose expanse it had limned couldn’t possibly
have penetrated as deeply as this . . . the pumping of the
bared heart placed the peeled kitten in direct and tingling
contact with the kernel of the world.
Noboru wondered, pressing a crumpled handkerchief
to his nose against the mounting stench, and breathing
hotly through his mouth: ‘What is beginning here now? 5
The kitten bled very little. The Chief tore through the
surrounding membrane and exposed the large, red-black
liver. Then he unwound the immaculate bowels and
reeled them on to the floor. Steam rose and nestled against
the rubber gloves. He cut the colon into slices and
squeezed out for all the boys to see a broth the colour of
lemons. ‘This stuff cuts just like flannel. 9
Noboru managed, while following his own dreamy
thoughts, to pay scrupulous attention to the details. The
kitten’s dead pupils were purple flecked with white; the
gaping mouth was stuffed with congealed blood, the
twisted tongue visible between the fangs. As the fat-
yellowed scissors cut them, he heard the ribs creak. And
he watched intently while the Chief groped in the ab-
dominal cavity, withdrew the small pericardium, and
plucked from it the tiny oval heart. When he squeezed
the heart between two fingers, the remaining blood gushed
on to his rubber gloves, reddening them to the tips of
What is really happening here?
Noboru had withstood the ordeal from beginning to
end. Now his half-dazed brain envisaged the warmth of
the scattered viscera and the pools of blood in the gutted
belly, finding wholeness and perfection in the rapture of
the dead kitten’s large languid soul. The liver, limp beside
the corpse, became a soft peninsula, the squashed heart a
little sun, the reeled-out bowels a white atoll, and the blood
in the belly the tepid waters of a tropical sea. Death
had transfigured the kitten into a perfect, autonomous
I killed it all by myself - a distant hand reached into
Noboru’s dream and awarded him a snow-white certifi-
cate of merit - I can do anything , no matter how awfuL
The Chief peeled off the squeaky rubber gloves and
laid one beautiful white hand on Noboru’s shoulder. ‘You
did a good job. I think we can say this has finally made
a real man of you - and isn’t all this blood a sight for sore
Meeting Ryuji on the way back from the Chief’s house
just after they had buried the cat was pure bad luck.
Noboru had scrubbed his hands, but what if there was
blood somewhere else on his body or on his clothes ?
What if he reeked of dead kitten ? What if his eyes be-
trayed him - like those of a criminal encountering an
acquaintance just after the crime ?
For one thing, there would be trouble if his mother
learned that he had been near the park at this time of
day: he was supposed to be in Kamakura with a different
group of friends. Noboru had been caught off guard, he
was even a little frightened, and he decided arbitrarily
that Ryuji was entirely to blame.
The others scattered after hurried good-byes and they
were left alone on the hot road with their long afternoon
Noboru was mortified. He had been waiting for an
opening to introduce Ryuji casually. If, under perfect cir-
cumstances, the introduction had succeeded, the Chief
might have admitted reluctantly that Ryuji was a hero
and Noboru’s honour would have been redeemed.
But at this unhappy, unexpected meeting, the sailor had
presented himself as a pitiful figure in a waterlogged shirt
and, as if that wasn’t enough, smiled like a fawning idiot.
That smile was a disparagement, for it was meant to
mollify a child; besides, it transformed Ryuji himself into
a disgraceful caricature of the adult lover of youngsters.
Overbright and artificial, an unnecessary, outrageous
blunder of a smile!
On top of that, Ryuji had said things he should never
have said. ‘Small world, isn’t it? Have a good swim?’
And when Noboru challenged the soaking shirt, he should
have answered: ‘Oh, this? I rescued a woman who had
thrown herself off the pier. This makes the third time I’ve
had to go swimming with all my clothes on . . .’
But he hadn’t said anything of the kind. Instead he had
offered this ridiculous explanation: ‘I took a little shower
at the fountain up there in the park.’ And with that un-
warranted smile all over his face !
He wants me to like him. 1 guess having your new
woman's brat like you can be pretty convenient at times .
They found themselves walking in the direction of the
house. Ryuji, who still had two hours on his hands, fell
into step with the boy, feeling pleased to have found some-
one to pass the time with. ‘There’s something funny about
both of us today,’ he volunteered as they walked along.
Noboru didn’t like the show of eager sympathy, but it
made asking an important favour easy: ‘Mr Tsukazaki,
would you mind not telling Mum about seeing me at the
The sailor’s pleasure at being entrusted with a secret,
his reassuring smile and quick assent, disappointed
Noboru. At least he could have threatened a little.
Tm supposed to have been at the beach all day - just
a minute . 9 Noboru sprinted to a sand pile at the side of
the road and, kicking off his tennis shoes, began to rub his
feet and legs with handfuls of sand. The smug, affected
boy moved with an animal quickness Ryuji hadn't seen
before. Conscious of being watched, Noboru was putting
on a show, smearing the sand on the backs of his legs and
all the way up his thighs. When he was satisfied, he
stepped into his shoes gingerly so as not to dislodge the sand
and minced back to Ryuji. ‘Look , 5 he said, indicating the
sand on his sweating thigh, ‘it stuck in the shape of a
‘Where are you heading now ? 5
‘Home. Why don't you come too, Mr Tsukazaki?
There's an air-conditioner in the living-room and it’s
They turned on the air-conditioner and Ryuji slumped
into a rattan chair. Noboru, after returning from an art-
fully reluctant trip to the bathroom under orders from
the housekeeper to wash his feet, sprawled on the rattan
couch near the closed window.
The housekeeper came in with cool drinks and began
to scold again: T 5 m going to tell your mother just how
bad you behave in front of company - flopping all over the
place like that.'
Noboru's eyes sought help from Ryuji.
‘It doesn't bother me a bit. And swimming all day does
seem to have tired him out.'
‘I suppose so - but he should know better . . .'
Obviously the housekeeper resented Ryuji and she
appeared to be venting her disgruntlement on Noboru.
Heaving from side to side buttocks heavy with discontent,
she lumbered out of the room.
Ryuji’s defence had united them in a tacit pact. Noboru
swilled his drink, dribbling yellow fruit juice on his throat.
Then he turned to look at the sailor, and, for the first
time, his eyes were smiling. ‘ I know just about everything
when it comes to ships.’
‘You’d probably put an old pro like me to shame.’
‘I don’t like to be flattered.’ Noboru raised his head
from a cushion his mother had embroidered; for an in-
stant, there was fury in his eyes.
‘What time do you stand watch, Mr Tsukazaki?’
‘From noon to four and from midnight to four. That’s
why they call it “thieves’ watch”.’
‘Thieves’ watch ! Gosh, that sounds terrific !’ This time
Noboru laughed outright and arched his back into a
‘How many men stand watch together?’
‘A duty officer and two helmsmen.’
‘Mr Tsukazaki, how much does a ship list in a squall?’
‘Thirty to forty degrees when it gets really bad. Try
walking up a forty-degree incline some time. It’s like
scaling a damn wall - fantastic. There are times when . . .’
Groping for words, Ryuji stared into space. Noboru
saw in his eyes the billows of a storm-riled sea and felt
mildly seasick. He was ecstatic.
‘The Rakuyo is a tramp steamer, isn’t she, Mr Tsu-
‘Yes, that’s right,’ Ryuji admitted half-heartedly: his
pride was hurt a little.
‘I guess most of your routes are between Japan and
China and then India, right ? ’
‘You do know what you’re talking about, don’t you?
Sometimes we ship wheat from Australia to England too.’
Noboru’s questions were precipitate, his interest leaped
from one subject to another. c What was the Philippines’
chief product again? 5
‘Lauan wood, I guess. 5
‘How about Malaya? 5
‘That’d be iron ore. Here’s one for you: what’s Cuba’s
chief product? 5
‘Sugar. What else? Anybody knows that. Say, have
you ever been to the West Indies?’
‘Yes. Just once, though. 5
‘Did you get to Haiti ? ’
‘Boy ! How about the trees there ?’
‘You know, like shade trees or — 5
‘Oh, that - palms mostly. And then the mountains are
full of what they call flamboyants. And silk trees. I can’t
remember whether the flamboyant looks like the silk tree
or not. Anyway, when they blossom, they look like they’re
on fire. And when the sky gets pitch black just before an
evening storm they turn fantastic colours. I’ve never seen
blossoms like that anywhere else. 5
Ryuji wanted to talk about his mysterious attachment
to a grove of wine palms. But he didn’t know how to tell
that kind of story to a child, and as he sat and wondered,
the doomsday glow of sunset in the Persian Gulf awoke in
his mind, and the sea wind caressing his cheek as he
stood at the anchor davit, and the rankling fall of the
barometer that warned of an approaching typhoon: he
was sensible again of the sea’s nightmarish power working
endlessly on his moods, his passions.
Noboru, just as he had seen storm billows a minute
before, beheld one by one in the sailor’s eyes the phantoms
he had summoned. Surrounded by visions of distant lands
and by white-paint nautical jargon, he was being swept
away to the Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean, the Per-
sian Gulf. And the journey was made possible by this
authentic Second Mate. Here at last was the medium
without which his imagination had been helpless. How
long he had waited for it !
Rapturously, Noboru shut his eyes tight.
The two-horsepower motor in the air-conditioner whis-
pered to the room. It was perfectly cool now, and Ryuji’s
shirt had dried. He clasped his rough hands behind his
head: the ridges in the finely laced rattan nestled coolly
against his fingers.
His eyes roved the dim room and he marvelled at the
golden clock enthroned on the mantelpiece, the cut-glass
chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the graceful jade
vases poised precariously on open shelves: all delicate, all
absolutely still. He wondered what subtle providence kept
the room from rocking. Until a day before, the objects
here had meant nothing to him, and in a day he would
be gone; yet, for the moment, they were connected. The
link was a glance met by a woman’s eyes, a signal eman-
ating from deep in the flesh, the brute power of his own
manhood; and to know this filled him with a sense of
mystery, as when he sighted an unknown vessel on the
open sea. Though his own flesh had fashioned the bond,
its enormous unreality with respect to this room made
What am I supposed to be doing here on a summer
afternoon? Who am I, sitting in a daze next to the son of
a woman I made last night? Until yesterday I had my
song - c the sea's my home , I decided that ' - and the tears
I cried for it, and two million yen in my bank account as
guarantees of my reality — what have I got now?
Noboru didn’t realize that Ryuji was sinking into a
void. He didn’t even notice that the sailor wasn’t looking
in his direction any more. Lack of sleep and a succession
of shocks had exhausted him, the bloodshot eyes he had
told the housekeeper were from the salt water were be-
ginning to close. He pondered, as he rocked towards sleep,
the glistening figures of absolute reality twice glimpsed
since the night before during lapses in the unmoving,
tedious, barren world
He saw them as marvellous gold embroideries leaping
off a flat black fabric: the naked sailor twisting in the
moonlight to confront a horn - the kitten’s death mask,
grave and fang-bared - its ruby heart . . . gorgeous enti-
ties all and absolutely authentic: then Ryuji too was an
authentic hero ... all incidents on the sea, in the sea,
under the sea - Noboru felt himself drowning in sleep.
‘Happiness,’ he thought. ‘Happiness that defies descrip-
tion . . .’ He fell asleep.
Ryuji looked at his watch: it was time to go. He
knocked lightly on the door leading to the kitchen and
called the housekeeper.
‘He’s fallen asleep.’
‘That’s just like that boy.’
‘He might catch a chill. If there’s a blanket or some-
‘ I’ll get one from upstairs.’
‘Well — I’ll be going now.’
‘I suppose we can expect you back tonight?’ A smirk
appeared around the housekeeper’s eyes and trickled
down her face as she glanced once, quickly, ogling up at
Since dark antiquity the words have been spoken by
women of every caste to sailors in every port; words of
docile acceptance of the horizon’s authority, of reckless
homage to that mysterious azure boundary; words never
failing to bestow on even the haughtiest woman the sad-
ness, the hollow hopes, and the freedom of the whore:
‘You’ll be leaving in the morning, won’t you ? . . .’
But Fusako was determined not to submit, though she
knew Ryuji would try to make her speak. She understood
that he was staking a simple man’s pride on the tears of a
woman lamenting the farewell. And what a simple man
he was ! Their conversation in the park the night be-
fore was proof of that. First he had misled her with his
pensive look into expecting profound observations or
even a passionate declaration, and then he had begun a
monologue on shreds of green leaf, and prattled about
his personal history, and finally, horribly entangled
in his own story, burst into the refrain of a popular
Yet she was relieved to know that he was not a dreamer,
and his plainness, a quality more durable than imagina-
tive, like a piece of sturdy old furniture, she found re-
assuring. Fusako needed a guarantee of safety, for she
had pampered herself too long, avoided danger in any
form, and her unexpected and dangerous actions since
the night before had frightened her. Feeling up in the air
as she did, it seemed vitally important that the man with
whom she was involved be down-to-earth. There were
still things to learn of course, but at least she was con-
vinced that Ryuji was not the sort of man to burden her
On their way to a steakhouse at the Bashado, they
passed a little cafe with a fountain in the garden and small
red and yellow lights strung along the awning over the
entrance, and decided to go in for a drink before dinner.
For some reason, the mint frappe Fusako ordered was
garnished with a cherry, stem and all. She deftly tore the
fruit away with her teeth and placed the stone in a shallow
The glow that lingered in the sky was sifting through
the lace curtains on the large front window, suffusing the
almost empty room. It must have been due to those deli-
cately tinted rays of light: the smooth, warm cherry stone,
just perceptibly beginning to dry and ineffably pink,
appeared incredibly seductive to Ryuji. He reached for
it abruptly and put it into his mouth. A cry of surprise
rose to Fusako’s lips, then she began to laugh. She had
never known a moment of such peaceful physical in-
They chose a quiet neighbourhood for a walk after
dinner. Captives of a tenderness that might have be-
witched the summer night, they walked in silence, hold-
ing hands. Fusako brushed at her hair with her free hand.
That afternoon she had watched for a lull in business at
the shop, then dashed to the beauty parlour for a quick
hairdo. Remembering the puzzlement on the beautician’s
face when she had declined the perfumed oil which she
always got her to comb lightly through her hair, Fusako
blushed. Now her whole body threatened to unravel into
a sloppy heap amid the smells of the city and the summer
Tomorrow, the thick fingers twined in her own would
plunge over the horizon. It was unbelievable, like a
ridiculous, spectacular lie. Fusako blurted out, as they
were passing a nursery that had closed for the day: ‘I’ve
sunk pretty low, thanks to you.’
‘Why?’ Surprised, Ryuji stopped.
Fusako peered through the wire fence at the trees and
shrubbery and rose bushes all tightly packed together in
the nursery garden. It was pitch dark, the luxuriant
foliage was unnaturally tangled and involuted: she felt
suddenly as though a terrible eye were looking into her.
‘Why ? 9 Ryuji asked again; Fusako didn’t answer. As
the mistress of a respectable shore household, she wanted
to protest at being forced into a pattern of life which
began with waving goodbye to a man, a pattern familiar
to any harbour whore. But that would have been only one
step away from giving utterance to those other words:
You’ll be leaving in the morning, won’t you ? . . .
A solitary life aboard ship had taught Ryuji not to
probe matters he didn’t understand. Fusako’s complaint
he interpreted as typical, a woman whining; his second
‘why’ was therefore playful, teasing. The thought of part-
ing with her the next day was painful, but he had a
maxim to countermand his pain, an insubstantial refrain
which played over and over in his dreams: ‘The man sets
out in quest of the Grand Cause; the woman is left be-
hind.’ Yet Ryuji knew better than anyone that no Grand
Cause was to be found at sea. At sea were only watches
linking night and day, prosaic tedium, the wretched cir-
cumstances of a prisoner.
And the admonishing cables: ‘Recently vessels of this
line have been plagued by a succession of collisions in
the Irako Channel and at the northern entrance to
Kijima Straits stop request extreme caution in narrow
channels and harbour entrances stop in view of this line’s
current situation request redoubled efforts to eliminate all
accidents at sea stop Director of Maritime Shipping.’
The cliche ‘in view of this line’s current situation’ had
been included in every wordy cable since the beginning
of the so-called shipping slump.
And the Quartermaster’s log, a daily record of weather,
wind velocity, atmospheric pressure, temperature, rela-
tive humidity, speed, distance logged, and revolutions per
minute, a diary accurately recording the sea’s caprice in
compensation for man’s inability to chart his own moods.
And, in the mess room, traditional dancing dolls, five
portholes, a map of the world on the wall. The soy-sauce
bottle was suspended from the ceiling on a leather strap;
sometimes round bars of sunlight lanced towards the
bottle and slipped back, darted in again as if to lap the
lurching, tea-brown liquid, then withdrew again. Posted
on the galley wall was an ostentatiously lettered breakfast
Miso Soup with Eggplant and Bean Curd
Stewed White Radishes
Raw Onions, Mustard, Rice
Lunch was Western style and always began with soup.
And the green engine, tossing and moaning inside its
twisted tubes like the feverish victim of a fatal disease . . .
In a day, all this would become Ryuji’s world again.
They had stopped in front of a small gate in the nursery
fence. Ryuji’s shoulder brushed against the gate and it
clicked open, swinging in towards the garden.
‘Look, we can go inside.’ Fusako’s eyes were sparkling
like a child’s.
With a furtive eye on the lighted window in the watch-
man’s shack, they stole into the dense, man-made forest;
there was scarcely room to step. They clasped hands and
made their way through the shoulder-high thicket, push-
ing thorny rose stems aside and stepping over flowers at
their feet until they emerged in a comer of the garden
occupied by tropical trees and plants, a lush tangle of
orchids and banana trees, rubber trees and all varieties
Seeing Fusako here in her white suit, Ryuji felt that
their first meeting must have been in some tropical jungle.
Deliberately, cautious of pointed leaves at eye level, they
moved together and embraced. The fragrance of her
perfume rose above the low droning of mosquitoes; Ryuji
was anguished, unaware of time and place.
Outside, only a slender wire fence away, small neon
lights were twinkling like goldfish; every few minutes the
headlights of a passing car mowed down the shadows of
their forest. The glow of a red neon sign flashing across
the street carried to Fusako’s palm-shadowed face,
brought a delicate blush to her white cheeks and black-
ened her red lips. Ryuji kissed her.
The long kiss plunged them into private pools of sensa-
tion. Fusako was aware only of the next day’s parting.
Stroking Ryuji’s cheek, touching the hot, lacquered sur-
faces where he had shaved, smelling the odour of flesh
rising from his agitated chest, she sensed every nerve in
his body screaming goodbye. His tight, furious embrace
told her how desperately he wanted to affirm that she was
real and really with him.
For Ryuji the kiss was death, the very death in love he
always dreamed of. The softness of her lips, her mouth so
crimson in the darkness he could see it with closed eyes,
so infinitely moist, a tepid coral sea, her restless tongue
quivering like sea grass ... in the dark rapture of all this
was something directly linked to death. He was perfectly
aware that he would leave her in a day, yet he was ready
to die happily for her sake. Death roused inside him,
Then the pale tremor of a ship’s siren floated in from
the direction of Centre Pier and settled over the garden.
A nebulous mist of sound, it would never have registered
on Ryuji’s ear if he hadn’t been a sailor. Funny time of
night for a freighter to be pulling out — I wonder how
they got her loaded so fast . The thought broke the spell
of the kiss; he opened his eyes. And he could feel the siren
probing deep inside him, rousing his passion for the Grand
Cause. But what was it? Maybe another name for the
Ryuji drew away from Fusako’s lips and began
fumbling in his vest pocket. She waited. There was a harsh
rustling of paper and he produced a crooked cigarette and
placed it between his lips; but Fusako angrily snatched
the lighter out of his hand. He leaned towards her. ‘Don’t
expect me to give you a light, because I won’t.’ The
lighter flared with a metallic click, the flame danced in
her unmoving eyes as she held it to a hemp leaf. The
withered tassels should have fired quickly but the flame
wouldn’t catch. Her engrossment, the steadiness of her
hand, made Ryuji afraid.
Then the little flame lit up her cheek and he saw the
string of tears. Fusako put out the lighter when she realized
he had noticed. Ryuji embraced her again and, relieved
by the assurance of her tears, he began to cry too.
Noboru waited irritably for his mother to come home.
At ten o’clock he heard the telephone ring. A minute later
the housekeeper came to his room with a message.
‘Your mother just called to say she’s going to stay the
night at a friend’s. She’ll be back in the morning to
change before she goes to the shop ; and you’re to spend
the evening catching up on all that summer homework.’
Never before, not as far back as he could remember,
had his mother ever stayed out all night. The develop-
ment itself was no surprise, but he flushed with rage and
apprehension. He had been looking forward all day to the
peephole: there was no telling what revelations, what
miracles it might have disclosed again tonight. He wasn’t
at all sleepy, on account of the nap he had taken in the
The desk was covered with holiday tasks he had to
finish before the new term began; there were only a few
days left. But Ryuji was leaving the next day and then
his mother would help him again. Or would she just
wander around in a daze, too preoccupied to worry about
her own son’s homework? Not that it made much differ-
ence: Japanese and English and art were the only sub-
jects she could handle. She was never much help with
social studies, and he knew more about maths and science
than she did. How could anyone that bad at maths run a
business? She was probably always at Mr Shibuya’s
Noboru opened a textbook and skimmed a few pages
but he couldn’t concentrate. He was too disturbed by the
indisputable fact that Ryuji and his mother were not in
He stood up, sat down, and at last began to pace the
small room. What could he do to get to sleep ? Go into his
mother’s room and watch the mast lamps in the harbour?
The red lamps on some of the ships blinked on and off
all night; there might even be a freighter sailing again,
and another screaming siren.
Then he heard the door to the next room open. Maybe
his mother had been trying to fool him and had come
home with Ryuji after all. He slipped the drawer quietly
out of the dresser and lowered it to the floor. He was
already dripping wet.
This time there was a knock at his own door! He
couldn’t let anyone see the drawer sitting in the middle
of the floor at this time of night; he scrambled to the door
and pushed against it with all his might. The doorknob
‘What’s going on in there? Can’t I come in?’ But it
was the housekeeper’s voice. ‘Are you all right? Go ahead
and be stubborn then; but you’d better turn those lights
out and get to bed - it’s almost eleven.’
Noboru was still leaning against the door, maintaining
an obstinate silence, when a key was rammed into the
lock and roughly turned. He was aghast. It had never
occurred to him that the housekeeper might have a key;
he had assumed that his mother had taken all the keys
with her when she went out.
Furious, his brow dripping sweat, he wrenched the
doorknob with all his strength; the door didn’t open. The
housekeeper’s footsteps faded as she descended the groan-
Noboru had hoped to take advantage of this one-in-a
thousand chance by sneaking over to the Chief’s house
and waking him with a password whispered outside his
window. Now this last, fervent hope was dashed to bits.
He despised all mankind. And he wrote a long entry in
his diary, not forgetting to set down Ryuji’s crimes.
CHARGES AGAINST RYUJI TSUKAZAKI
One: smiling at me in a cowardly, ingratiating way when
I met him this morning.
Two: wearing a dripping-wet shirt and explaining that he
had taken a shower in the fountain at the park - just like
an old bum.
Three: deciding arbitrarily to spend the night out with
Mother, thereby placing me in a dreadfully isolated
But after thinking it over, Noboru erased the third
count. It was obviously a contradiction of the first two,
which were aesthetic, idealistic, and therefore objective
value judgements. The subjective problem in the third
charge was only proof of his own immaturity, not to be
construed as a crime on Ryuji’s part.
Noboru squeezed a mountain of toothpaste on to his
toothbrush and belaboured his mouth until the gums
bled. Staring into the mirror, he watched a pistachio foam
swaddle his irregular teeth until only the shiny pointed
edges of the boyish cuspids showed; he was despondent.
The smell of peppermint made a purity of his rage.
Tearing off his shirt, Noboru put on his pyjama tops
and looked around the room. As if it were material evi-
dence, the dresser drawer was still on exhibit in the middle
of the floor. He lifted it, surprised by a heaviness he hadn’t
noticed before, and was about to return it to the chest
when he changed his mind and put it down again. He
slipped into the space in the wall with practised ease.
The hole had been closed, he thought for one terrifying
instant; then, groping with his fingers, he discovered that
it was open as before. There simply wasn’t enough light
on the other side to reveal it at a glance.
Noboru pressed his eye to the peephole. When the door
had opened before, he realized, it had been the house-
keeper going in to draw all the curtains. Gradually the
pupil strained open, and he discerned around the brass
bedsteads a glimmer of light, a wisp of brightness hardly
more than a trace of mould.
The room as a whole, feverish with vestiges of the noon
heat, was as black as the inside of a large coffin, every-
where a shade of darkness, and alive with jostling particles
of something Noboru had never seen, the blackest thing in
all the world.
They spent the night in a small old hotel not far from the
docks: Fusako was afraid she might be recognized at one
of the large downtown hotels. She had often passed this
drab, two-storey building but had never imagined as she
glanced through the glass doors at the entrance and saw
the dim, outsize lobby, the scarred front desk, and the
large steamship calendar bedizening one calcimined wall,
that she would be staying here one day.
They slept for a few hours in the early morning, then
separated until sailing time. Fusako went home to change
clothes before going to work, Ryuji returned to the pier.
He had to stand in for the First Mate, who was going
ashore to do some shopping. He would have been busy in
any case because the maintenance of ropes and other
tackle so important in the loading operation was one of
his regular duties.
The Rakuyo was due to sail at six; and thanks to four
days and nights of perfect weather, loading had proceeded
on schedule. The freighter was bound for Santos, her
meandering course to be determined by consignors in
ports along the way.
Fusako came home at three, changed into a cotton
yukata so that Ryuji might have a last look at a woman in
a kimono, and left for the pier with Noboru. Traffic was
light : it was only a few minutes after four when they
arrived. A few trucks and a crane were still clustered
round one of the concrete sheds, the boom on the
Rakuyd s foredeck still wobbled between her hatches and
the pier. Fusako decided to wait in the air-conditioned
car until Ryuji came down to meet them.
But Noboru couldn’t sit still. He bolted out of the car
and raced up and down the bustling pier, inspecting the
barges moored below and exploring unlocked sheds.
Inside the largest, reaching almost to the crisscross of
green steel beams at the ceiling, were stacks of new white
wooden crates with black metal clasps at the comers and
words stamped in English on the side slats. Noboru, as he
watched a siding fade to nothing amid the towering freight,
felt a thrill of joy at having come to the end of the dream
that railways wake in children, and also mild disappoint-
ment: it was like tracing the course of a familiar river
and discovering its tiny source.
‘Mum! Hey, Mum ! 5 Racing back to the car, Noboru
drummed on the window: he had spotted Ryuji standing
near the windlass in the ship’s bow.
Fusako got out of the car and they waved at the high
distant figure in a dirty khaki shirt. Ryuji raised one hand
in reply, then moved busily out of sight. Nobom thought
of the sailor toiling now, and soon to sail away; and he
was flushed with pride.
Fusako could only wait for Ryuji to appear again. Un-
furling a parasol with a silver handle, she watched the
Rakuyc ? s swaying hawsers cut thick gashes across the har-
bour’s face. The dock was broiling under the western sun,
washed with light and dazzling to the eye; and eating into
all the steel and concrete, like the salt in a sea wind, was
a strong, smarting grief. The same grief was diffused
through the bright air, its force imparting to the occa-
sional clatter of deck plates and the crash of hurled cables
a long, hollow reverberation.
The concrete pier trapped the heat and hurled it back
as a scorching glare; the light breeze blowing off the water
brought no relief.
They squatted at the edge of the sea-wall with their
backs to the ferocious sun, and stared at the wavelets
mincing in to break and foam against the white-flecked
stone. Rocking slightly like a rough-hewn cradle, one of
the barges moored below edged towards the wall, then
slipped back while another sidled in. A seagull skimmed
over the wash that flapped on the open decks; a shiny
log floating amid other garbage on the dirty water rode
round and round on the eddying swell. The waves ad-
vanced in tiers, flank blending subtly with azure flank
until it seemed that this endlessly repeated pattern was all
they could see as they gazed at the water.
Noboru read off the draught numbers painted on the
Rakuyc ? s side; 60 was just above the water, 84 and 86
bracketed the water line, 90 was almost as high as the
6 Do you think the water ever gets that high? Gosh, it
must be quite something if it does/
Noboru had guessed his mother’s mood and she was
reminding him as she stared out to sea of that lonely,
naked figure in front of the mirror; the question was as
boyish as he could make it, but Fusako didn’t answer.
Across the harbour basin, pale grey smoke hovered
above the streets of Naka Ward; the red-and-white-striped
beacon tower aspired to clearer sky. The middle distance
was a dense forest of white masts and, still farther out, a
bank of clouds luminous in the late afternoon sunlight
heaped and twisted above the water.
A steam launch towing an unloaded barge pulled away
from the far side of the Rakuyo and chugged out of
It was just after five when Ryuji came off the ship. The
silver chains which would raise the gangplank had already
been attached. A gang of longshoremen wearing yellow
helmets had filed down the gangplank, piled into a Long-
shoremen’s Union bus, and left the pier. The eight-ton
Port Authority derrick had gone, the hatches had been
bolted down. Then, finally, Ryuji appeared.
Noboru and Fusako chased long shadows towards the
sailor. Ryuji squashed Noboru’s straw hat with the palm
of his hand and laughed as the boy struggled to pull the
brim up over his eyes. The work had exhilarated him.
‘We’ll be leaving any minute now. I’ll be aft when we
cast off.’ Ryuji gestured towards the distant stem.
‘I decided to wear a kimono. You won’t be seeing any
for quite a while now — ’
‘ I guess not - except maybe on old nisei ladies travelling
with American tours. ’
They found surprisingly little to say. Fusako considered
mentioning how lonely she was going to be and decided
not to. The parting, like the white fruit of an apple dis-
colouring instantly around the bite, had begun three days
before when they had met aboard the Rakuyo . Saying
good-bye now entailed not a single new emotion.
Noboru, as he affected childishness, was standing guard
over the perfection of the adults, of the moment. His was
the sentinel’s role. The less time they had, the better. The
shorter this meeting was, the less perfection would be
marred. For the moment, as a man leaving a woman be-
hind to voyage around the world, as a sailor, and as a
Second Mate, Ryuji was perfect. So was his mother. As a
woman to be left behind, as a beautiful sailcloth full-
blown with happy memories and the grief of parting, she
was perfect too. Both had blundered dangerously during
the past two days but at the moment their behaviour was
beyond reproach. If only Ryuji didn’t say something
ridiculous and spoil it all before he was safely under way.
Peering from beneath the broad brim of his straw hat,
Noboru anxiously studied first one face and then the
Ryuji wanted to kiss Fusako but he was intimidated by
Noboru. Besides, like a man who knows he is dying, he
felt a need to be equally tender to all. At the moment, the
memories and feelings of others seemed far more im-
portant than his own; yet somewhere beneath the sweet
agony of self-denial was a desire to get away as quickly
Fusako still couldn’t permit herself to imagine the
anxious, exhausting wait to come. She devoured the man
with her eyes, testing the sufficiency of that bond. But how
self-contained he looked, like a refractory object not even
attempting to extend itself beyond its contours. She wished
he could be something less defined, like mist. This horrid
hulk was too much like rock to fade from memory: the
heavy brows, for example, or the too solid shoulders . . .
‘Don’t forget to write - and use all different kinds of
stamps , 5 Noboru said, perfectly in command of his role.
‘You bet. I’ll send something from every port. And you
write too. A sailor looks forward to letters more than any-
thing . 5
He explained that he had to go aboard to help with the
final preparations. They all shook hands. Ryuji climbed
the silvery gangplank, turned at the top, and waved his
The sun was just above the warehouse roofs, setting fire
to the western sky and searing shadow images of king
posts and mushroom ventilators into the dazzling white
steel of the bridge. Noboru watched the seagulls wheeling
overhead; their wings were dark, their bellies, when they
breasted the light, turned yellow as yolks.
Trucks and cranes and dollies had withdrawn from the
Rakuyo and the dock was empty and still, awash with
light. A deckhand dwarfed by distance was still scrubbing
a high railing on the Rakuyo’s deck and another, a patch
over one eye and a paint can in his hand, painting what
might have been a window frame. Noboru hadn’t noticed
the blue and white and red signal flags being hoisted up
the mast; at the top of the spire, the Blue Peter fluttered.
They walked slowly towards the stem.
All the louvered, dark-green warehouse doors were
lowered; large ‘No Smoking 5 signs and the names of
major ports scrawled in chalk - Singapore, Hong Kong,
Lagos - covered the dismal stretch of wall. Tyres and
rubbish bins and the dollies parked in neat rows cast their
long shadows across the concrete pier.
The stem high above them was still deserted. There was
a quiet sound of water draining, a Japanese flag flapped
in the shadow of the anchor davit.
The first stridulous blast of the siren came at fifteen
minutes to six. Noboru, listening, knew that the phantom
he had watched two nights before was real, understood
that he was present at the spot where all dreams began
and ended. Then he saw Ryuji; he was standing next to
the Japanese flag.
‘He might hear you if you yell loud enough/ Fusako
urged. The shout left his throat just as the siren subsided;
he was horrified by the shrillness of his voice. Ryuji peered
down at them and waved; he was too far away to see the
expression on his face. Then he turned back to his work
with the same twist of his shoulders that had turned him
to face the moonlit siren, and didn’t look their way again.
Fusako glanced towards the prow. The gangplank had
been raised; the last link between ship and shore was
broken. The Rakuyo ’ s green-and-cream-coloured side
looked like the blade of a colossal axe fallen out of the
heavens to cleave the shore asunder.
Smoke began to pour from the funnels. Pitch black, it
billowed into the sky in huge clouds which rose to smudge
the pale zenith.
‘Stand by, fore-station - make ready to weigh anchor/
‘Take up on that slack!’ There was another short blast
on the siren.
‘ That’s good, fore-station/
‘Weigh anchor - head line away - shore lines away!’
The Rakuyo inched away from the pier as the tugboat
toiled into the harbour with the stem in tow. The breadth
of water sparkling between the ships and the sea-wall
fanned open, and even as their eyes were pursuing the
receding glitter of the gold braid on Ryuji’s cap, the ship
had pivoted a full ninety degrees and was at right angles
to the pier.
The Rakuyo was transformed into an illusory phantom
as angles altered from one instant to the next. Gradually,
as the stem was towed farther out into the harbour, the
long ship folded like a panelled screen while the super-
structure on deck overlapped, piled into impacted tiers,
and, trapping sunlight in every pocket and dent, soared
skyward like a shining pagoda of steel. But the effect was
only momentary. Now the tug began to circle back in
order to face the bow towards open sea, and the storied
tower thrusting up from the deck was dismantled; each
object in succession from bow to stem resumed its proper
shape until finally the stem itself reappeared and a match-
stick figure just recognizable as Ryuji swung back into the
splendour of the setting sun.
‘Tow lines away — 5 The voice on the loudspeaker was
still clear when it reached them on the wind. The tug
Poised motionless on the water, the ship sounded three
blasts on her horn. Uneasy silence followed, an interval of
quiescence during which it seemed that Ryuji aboard
ship and Fusako and Noboru on the pier were trapped in
the same viscous moment of time.
Finally, rocking the whole harbour and carrying to
every city window; assailing kitchens with dinner on the
stove, and shoddy hotel bedrooms where sheets are never
changed, and desks waiting for children to come home,
and schools and tennis courts and graveyards; plunging
everything into a moment of grief and ruthlessly tearing
even the hearts of the uninvolved, the Rakuyo’s siren
screamed one last enormous farewell. Trailing white
smoke, she sailed straight out to sea. Ryuji was lost from
Part Two Winter
At nine o’clock on the morning of the thirtieth of Decem-
ber, Ryuji emerged from the customs shed at Centre Pier.
Fusako was there to meet him.
Centre Pier was a curious abstraction of a neighbour-
hood. The streets were unpeopled and excessively clean;
the plane trees lining them were withered. Down a siding
which ran between archaic red-brick warehouses and a
pseudo-Renaissance shipping office chugged an ancient
steam engine puffing clouds of black smoke. Even the
lithe railway-crossing seemed unauthentic, as though it
belonged to a set of toy trains. The sea was responsible for
the unreality of the place, for it was to her service alone
that the streets, the buildings, even the dumb bricks in
the wall were pledged. The sea had simplified and ab-
stracted to a point where the pier had lost its sense of
reality and now seemed dazed, bereft of function.
Besides, it was raining. Rich cinnabar gushed out of
the old brick walls and washed into puddles on the
street. The masts spiring above the roofs were dripping
Not wanting to attract attention, Fusako waited in the
back seat of the car. Through the rain-streaked window
she watched the crew emerge one by one from the
weather-beaten wooden shed. Ryuji paused for a minute
in the doorway to turn up the collar of his pea-jacket and
pull his cap low over his eyes. Then he hunched into the
rain, carrying an old zip-fastener bag. Fusako sent her
chauffeur running out to call him.
He came hurtling into the car like a piece of bulky,
rain-soaked baggage. ‘I knew you’d come - I knew
it, 5 he gasped, seizing the shoulders of Fusako’s mink
His cheeks were streaked with rain - or were those
tears? - and he was more sunburned than before. Fusako
had paled: her white face was like a window opened in
the dim interior of the car. As they kissed, they were cry-
ing. Ryuji slipped his hands under Fusako’s coat and
clutched wildly at her body as though searching for life
in a corpse he had saved from drowning, locked his arms
around her supple waist and replenished his heart and
mind with the details of her. It was only a six- or seven-
minute ride to the house. Eventually, as the car was cross-
ing Yamashita Bridge, they were able to begin a normal
‘Thanks for all the letters. I read every one a hundred
‘I did yours too. You can stay with us at least over the
New Year, can’t you ? 5
‘Thanks. . . . How’s Noboru been?’
‘He wanted to come and meet you at the pier but he
caught a little cold and had to go to bed. Oh, it’s nothing
serious - hardly any temperature
The conversation was ordinary, remarks any lands-
men might exchange, and it came easily. They had
imagined during the months apart that their conversation
would be difficult when they met again; restoring the
bond between them to what it had been after three
summer days had seemed impossible. Was it likely that
things would proceed as smoothly as an arm slips into the
sleeve of a coat unworn for half a year ?
But the tears of joy had washed anxiety away and
lifted them to a height where nothing was impossible.
Ryuji was as if paralysed: the sight of familiar places,
places they had visited together, failed to move him. That
Yamashita Park and Marine Tower should now appear
just as he had often pictured them seemed only obvious,
inevitable. And the smoking drizzle of rain, by softening
the too distinct scenery and making of it something closer
to the images stored by memory, only heightened the
reality of it all. Ryuji expected for some time after he
disembarked to feel the world tottering precariously be-
neath his feet, and yet today more than ever before, like
a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, he felt snugly in place in an
anchored, amiable world.
They turned right off the bridge, drove for a short time
along the canal, which was buried under grey tarpaulined
barges, and began climbing the hill past the French Con-
sulate. Far up in the sky, dishevelled clouds brightened
and churned apart; the rain was letting up. They were at
the top of the hill now, passing the entrance to the park.
The car turned left into a lane and stopped in front of the
Kuroda house. From the gate to the front door was only
a few steps, but the tiled path was soaking wet. The old
chauffeur held an umbrella over Fusako as he escorted
her to the door and then rang the bell.
When the housekeeper appeared, Fusako told her to
turn on the light in the vestibule. Ryuji stepped over the
low sill and entered the dimness.
In the instant needed to cross the threshold, a subtle
doubt assailed him. Presumably, the glittering ring they
had re-entered together was just as they had left it. The
difference was ineffably slight, but something, somewhere,
had changed. Fusako had been careful never to allude to
the future, neither when they had said good-bye at the end
of the summer nor in any of her many letters, yet their
embrace a few minutes before had made clear that it was
here to this house, together, that both were longing to
return. But Ryuji’s eagerness wouldn’t permit him to
pause and consider the discrepancy further. He didn’t
even notice that he was entering an altogether different
‘It’s been simply pouring,’ Fusako was saying. ‘It
seems to be letting up a little now, though.’ Then the
light in the vestibule clicked on and the imported marble
floor floated into view.
A fire was blazing in the living-room fireplace, and
installed on the mantelpiece in readiness for New
Year’s Day was a small wooden stand laden with oblatory
rice-cakes and garlanded in the traditional manner
with whitebeam and kelp and bunches of sea grapes.
The housekeeper brought them some tea and managed
a creditable greeting: ‘It’s very nice to see you back
again. Noboru and Mrs Kuroda have been excited all the
The only changes in the living-room were some new
samples of Fusako’s embroidery and a small tennis trophy
on display in one corner. She guided Ryuji round the
room, explaining each addition as she came to it. The
moment he had sailed, her zeal for tennis and embroidery
had increased. She had been playing at the club near the
Myokoji Temple every weekend, sometimes even stealing
away from the shop on weekday afternoons; the evenings
she had spent alone in her room, embroidering on silk.
Many of her recent patterns had something to do with
ships. The new cushions, completed during the autumn,
were decorated with old-fashioned wheels and small
stylized fleets of Portuguese schooners. The trophy was
for women’s doubles; she had won it in the club’s end-
of-the-year tournament. For Ryuji, all this was proof of
her chastity during his absence.
‘But nothing really exciting happened,’ Fusako said.
‘Not while you were away . . .’
She confessed how peeved she had been to discover
herself waiting for him despite her determination not to.
She had thrown herself into her work confident that he
was forgotten, and when the last customer for the day
had left and the shop was hushed, she would hear the
fountain bubbling in the patio. And, listening, be struck
with terror. Then she knew that she was waiting . . .
This time, Fusako was able to express herself with
fluency and candour. The bold letters she had been writing
week after week had granted her an unexpected new free-
dom. And Ryuji was more talkative than before, more
animated. The change had started one day in Honolulu
when he received Fusako’s first letter. He became notice-
ably more friendly, even began to enjoy the natter sessions
in the mess room. It wasn’t long after that before the
Rakuyo 3 s officers knew all the details of his love.
‘ Do you feel like going up and saying hello to Noboru ?
He was so excited about seeing you, I’ll bet he didn’t get
a decent night’s sleep either.’
Ryuji rose from his chair. It was clear now, beyond a
doubt: he was the man they had been waiting for, the
man they loved.
Taking a present for Noboru out of his suitcase, Ryuji
followed Fusako up the same dark stairs he had climbed
on trembling tiptoe that summer night. This time, his
steps were the resolute tread of a man who belongs.
In bed upstairs, Noboru listened to the ascending foot-
steps. He was tense from waiting, his body under the
covers stiff as a board, and yet, somehow, these weren’t
quite the footsteps he had expected.
There was a knock on his door and it swung open.
Noboru saw a reddish-brown baby crocodile.
The beast hovered in the doorway, floating in the
watery light which was pouring into the room from the
sky outside, clear now and bright, and for an instant the
glittering glass-bead eyes, and the gaping mouth, and the
stiffened legs paddling the air, seemed to come alive. A
question struggled through the confusion of his slightly
feverish mind: has anyone ever used something living for
a coat of arms ? Once Ryu ji had told him about the Coral
Sea: the water inside an atoll was as still as the surface of
a pond, but in the offing, huge waves thundered to pieces
against the outer reef and the crashing crests of white
foam looked like hugely distant phantoms. His headache,
which, compared with yesterday’s, had receded into the
distance, was like a white crest billowing beyond the atoll.
And the crocodile was the headache’s coat of arms, the
symbol of his own distant authority. It was true that sick-
ness had touched the boy’s face with majesty.
‘Like him ? He’s for you.’ Ryuji had been standing just
outside the door, holding the crocodile at arm’s length.
Now he stepped into the room. He was wearing a grey
turtleneck sweater; his face was deeply tanned.
Noboru had prepared for Ryuji’s entrance by resolving
not to smile with pleasure. Using illness as a pretext, he
succeeded in maintaining a glum face.
‘That’s strange ! He was so happy and excited just a
little while ago. Do you feel feverish again, dear ? 5 An un-
warranted little speech! Never before had his mother
seemed such a petty person.
‘There’s a story attached to this , 5 Ryuji went on, un-
conscious of the tension in the room. He placed the beast
next to Noboru’s pillow. ‘This crocodile was stuffed by
the Indians in Brazil. Those tribesmen are real Indians.
And when carnival time comes round, the warriors put
crocodiles like this one or sometimes stuffed water fowl
on their heads, in front of the feathers they wear in their
hair. And they strap three little round mirrors to their
foreheads. When those mirrors catch the light from the
bonfires, they look just like . . . three-eyed devils. They
string leopard teeth around their throats, and wrap them-
selves in leopard skins. And they all have quivers on their
backs, and beautiful bows, and different-coloured arrows.
Anyway, that’s the story of this crocodile. It’s part of the
ceremonial dress the Brazilian Indians wear at carnival
time . 5
‘Thanks , 5 Noboru said. He ran his hand over the glossy
bumps on the crocodile’s back and stroked the shrivelled
limbs. Then he inspected the dust which had accumulated
beneath the red glass-bead eyes while the beast had
crouched on a shelf in some Brazilian country store, and
thought about what Ryuji had said. The room was too
hot; the sheets were feverish, wrinkled, damp. The bits of
skin on the pillow had flaked off Noboru’s dried lips. He
had been picking at them furtively a few minutes before.
Just as he began to worry that his lips might look too red,
he glanced involuntarily towards the drawer that con-
cealed the peephole. Now he had done it! He was in
agony. What if the adults traced his gaze and levelled
suspicious eyes on the wall ? But no, it was all right. They
were even more insensible than he had suspected: they
were cradled in the numbing arms of love.
Noboru stared hard at the sailor. His sun-blackened
face looked even more virile than before, the thick eye-
brows and white teeth more sharply accented. But
Noboru had sensed something unnatural about the sailor’s
monologue, a forced attempt to relate to his own fancies,
a truckling to the exaggerated sentiments he had set down
in his frequent letters. There was something counterfeit
about this Ryuji. When he couldn’t bear it any longer,
Noboru spoke. ‘ I don’t know - there’s something phony
about this . . .’
c Are you kidding? Because he’s so small?’ It was a
good-natured misunderstanding. ‘Even crocodiles are
small when they’re kids. Try going to the zoo some time.’
‘Noboru ! I’m surprised at you. Now why don’t you
stop being so impolite and show Mr Tsukazaki your stamp
But before he could move a hand, his mother had
snatched the album from the desk and was showing Ryuji
the carefully mounted stamps he had mailed to Noboru
from ports around the world.
She sat in the chair with her face towards the light and
turned the pages while Ryuji, one arm across the chair,
looked over her shoulder. Noboru noticed they both had
handsome profiles: the thin, clear winter light silvered
the bridges of their noses. They seemed oblivious of his
presence in the room.
‘Mr Tsukazaki, when will you be sailing again?’
Noboru asked abruptly.
His mother turned to him with a shocked face and he
could see that she had paled. It was the question she most
wanted to ask, and most dreaded. Ryuji was posing near
the window with his back to them. He half-closed his
eyes, and then, very slowly, said: ‘I’m not sure yet.’
Noboru was stunned. Fusako didn’t speak, but she
looked like a bottle full of feeling which boiled against
the small cork stopper. Her expression might have meant
joy or sorrow - a woman’s sodden face. To Noboru, she
looked like a washerwoman.
A brief pause, and Ryuji again spoke calmly. His tone
was sympathetic, the compassion a man feels when he is
certain he holds the power to affect another’s fate: ‘At
any rate, it’ll take at least until after the New Year to get
the ship unloaded . .
Red with rage and coughing violently, Noboru pulled
his diary from under the pillow as soon as they had left,
and wrote a short entry.
CHARGES AGAINST RYUJI TSUKAZAKI
Three: answering, when 1 asked when he would be sailing
again: 7’m not sure yet *
Noboru put down his pen and thought for a minute while
his anger mounted. Then he added:
Four : coming back here again in the first place .
But soon he began to feel ashamed of his anger. What
good had been all that training in ‘absolute dispassion’?
He carefully explored every comer of his heart to make
certain not even a fragment of rage remained, and then
re-read what he had written. When he had finished, he
was convinced: revision would not be necessary.
Then he heard a stirring in the next room. Apparently
his mother had gone into the bedroom. Ryuji seemed to
be there too . . . the door to his own room wasn’t locked.
Noboru ’s heart began to hammer. How, he wondered, in
an unlocked room at this time of morning could he quickly
- that was important - remove the drawer and steal into
the space in the wall without being discovered ?
Fusako’ s present was an armadillo pocketbook. It was a
bizarre affair, with a handle that looked like a rat’s neck,
and crude clasps and stitching, but she left the house with
it happily and displayed it proudly at the shop while Mr
Shibuya scowled his disapproval.
They spent the last day of the year apart: Fusako was
needed at Rex and Ryuji had to take the afternoon watch.
This time it seemed perfectly natural that they should go
separate ways for half a day.
It was after ten when Fusako returned that evening.
Ryuji had been helping Noboru and the housekeeper with
the traditional New Year’s Eve cleaning and together they
had managed to finish the job more quickly than in pre-
vious years. Ryuji issued brisk instructions as though he
were directing a scrub-down on the deck, and Noboru,
whose temperature had come down that morning, carried
out his orders with enthusiasm.
Fusako came in as they were descending the stairs with
mops and pails after having cleaned all the upstairs rooms.
Ryuji had rolled up the sleeves of his sweater and bound
a towel around his head; Noboru was turbaned in the
same fashion, his cheeks flushed and glowing. The scene
surprised and delighted Fusako, but she couldn’t help
worrying a little about Noboru’s health.
‘Stop worrying so much! Working up a good sweat’s
the best way to kill a cold . 5 The remark may have been
crude as an attempt at reassurance but at least it was
‘man’s talk’, something Fusako’s house hadn’t heard for
a long time. The walls and the old beams in the ceiling
seemed to shrink from the masculine utterance.
When the whole family had gathered to listen to the
midnight bells and feast on special buckwheat noodles,
the housekeeper told an anecdote from her past which she
repeated every New Year’s Eve: ‘At the Macgregors 5 -
that’s the people I used to work for - New Year’s Eve
always meant a big party with lots of company. And at
twelve o’clock on the dot everybody started kissing every-
body else like nothing on earth ! One time I even had an
old Irish gentleman with whiskers smooch me on the
cheek - he just hung on there like he was a leech or
something . . .’
Ryuji embraced Fusako as soon as they were alone in
the bedroom. Later, when the first pale promise of dawn
appeared, he proposed something childish : why didn’t
they walk over to the park and watch the first sunrise of
the New Year? Fusako was captivated by the lunacy of
racing into the cold. She jumped out of bed and bundled
herself into everything she could get on - tights, slacks,
a cashmere sweater, and a gorgeous Danish ski sweater
over that; and tiptoeing down the stairs, they unlocked
the front door and stepped outside.
The dawn air felt good against their heated bodies.
Racing into the deserted park, they laughed out loud and
chased each other in and out among the fir trees, and took
deep breaths, vying to see who could exhale the whitest
steam into the cold, dark air. They felt as though thin
crusts of ice were coating their love-staled mouths.
It was well past six when they leaned against the rail-
ing that overlooked the harbour: Venus had banked into
the south. Though the lights of buildings and the red
lamps blinking on distant masts were still bright, and
though the beacon’s red and green blades of light still
knifed through the darkness in the park, outlines of
houses could be discerned and the sky was touched with
Small and distant, the first cock call of the year reached
them on the chill morning wind, a tragic, fitful cry. ‘May
this be a good year for us all.’ Fusako spoke her prayer
aloud. It was cold, and when she nestled her cheek against
Ryuji’s he kissed the lips so close to his and said: ‘It will
be. It has to be . 5
Gradually a blurred form at the water’s edge was
sharpening into a building. As Ryuji stared at a red
bulb blooming above an emergency exit, he became
painfully conscious of the texture of shore life. He
would be thirty-four in May. It was time to abandon the
dream he had cherished too long. Time to realize
that no specially tailored glory was waiting for him, no
matter if the feeble eaves lamps still defied the green-
grey light of morning by refusing to come awake, to open
Though it was New Year’s Day, a submerged tremolo
pervaded the harbour. Every few minutes a barge un-
ravelled from the moored fleet and hacked dryly down
the canal. As a rosy hue stained the surface of the water
and seemed to inflate itself into a round abundance, the
poles of light slanting away from anchored ships began
to dwindle. Twenty minutes past six: the mercury lamps
in the park clicked out.
‘Are you getting cold?’ Ryuji asked.
‘My gums are stinging, it’s so cold - but I don’t mind.
The sun will be coming up any minute now.’
Are you getting cold? . . . Are you getting cold? Ryuji
asked again and again, and all the time he was directing
another question to himself: Are you really going to give
it up? The feeling of the sea , the dark , drunken feeling
that unearthly rolling always brings? The thrill of saying
good-bye? The sweet tears you weep for your song? Are
you going to give up the life which has detached you
from the world , kept you remote , impelled you towards
the pinnacle of manliness? The secret yearning for death.
The glory beyond and the death beyond. Everything was
‘beyond’, wrong or right, had always been ‘beyond’.
Are you going to give that up? His heart in spasm because
he was always in contact with the ocean’s dark swell and
the lofty light from the edge of the clouds, twisting,
withering until it clogged and then swelling up again,
and he unable to distinguish the most exalted feelings
from the meanest and that not mattering really since he
could hold the sea responsible - are you going to give up
that luminous freedom?
And yet Ryuji had discovered on the return leg of his
last voyage that he was tired, tired to death of the squalor
and the boredom in a sailor’s life. He was convinced that
he had tasted it all, even the lees, and he was glutted.
What a fool he’d been ! There was no glory to be found,
not anywhere in the world. Not in the Northern Hemi-
sphere. Not in the Southern Hemisphere. Not even be-
neath that constellation every sailor dreams about, the
Southern Cross !
Now they could make out the lumber yards beyond
the canal; roosters had crowed at the sky until a coy
blush spread across her face. Finally the mast lamps
blinked out and ships withdrew like phantoms into the
fog that shrouded the harbour. Then, as an angry red
began to smoulder along the edges of the sky, the open
park behind them unfurled into whitish emptiness and
the skirts on the beacon beam fell away, leaving only
glinting needlepoints of red and green light.
It was very cold; leaning against the railing with their
arms round each other, they stamped their feet.
Tt can’t be long now , 5 Fusako said, her voice rising
above the chatter of small birds. The lipstick she had
dabbed on before they left the house, a spot of vivid red
rising out of the whiteness of her chilled, drawn face,
looked beautiful to Ryuji.
A minute later, far to the right of the floating lumber
and surprisingly high up, a gauzy red ring loomed in the
slate-grey sky. Immediately the sun became a globe of
pure red but still so weak they could look straight at it,
a blood-red moon.
T know this will be a good year; it couldn’t be any-
thing else with us here like this, watching the first sun-
rise together. And you know something ? This is the first
time I’ve ever seen the sunrise on New Year’s Day . 5
Fusako’s voice shrivelled in the cold. Ryuji heard him-
self bellow in the resolute voice he used to shout orders
into the wind on the winter deck: ‘Will you marry
Annoyed at having to repeat himself, he blurted out
things better left unsaid : 6 I’m asking you to marry me. I
may be just a dumb sailor but I’ve never done anything
I’m ashamed of. You may laugh when I say this, but I
have nearly two million yen saved up - you can see my
bankbook presently. That’s everything I have to my name
and I’m going to give it all to you whether you marry me
His artless proposal touched the worldly woman more
deeply than he knew. Overjoyed, Fusako began to cry.
The sun was blazing now, too dazzlingly bright for
Ryuji’ s anxious eyes, and the whistle-wailing, gear-grind-
ing cacophony of the harbour was surging towards full
pitch. The horizon was misted over, the sun’s reflection
spreading like a reddish haze over the surface of the water.
‘Yes - of course I will. But I think there are some
problems we ought to discuss first. There’s Noboru, for
example, and my work at the shop. Can I make just one
condition? What you’ve just said, I mean - if you’re
planning to leave again soon — it would be hard . . .’
‘I won’t be sailing again for a while. As a matter of
fact . . .’ Ryuji faltered, and was silent.
There wasn’t a single Japanese room in Fusako’ s house;
her mode of living was thoroughly Western except on
New Year’s Day, when she observed tradition by serving
the special New Year’s breakfast on lacquered trays and
drinking toasts with spiced sake .
Ryuji hadn’t slept at all. He washed his face with
‘young water’, the first water drawn in the year, and went
into the dining-room. It was a strange feeling, as though
he were still in Europe, at the Japanese Consulate in
some northern seaport. In the past, he and the other
officers of the Rakuyo had been invited to New Year’s
breakfast at consulates abroad; the sake dipper and the
wooden cups stacked on a stand inlaid with gold, and the
lacquered boxes filled with traditional side dishes, were
always arrayed on a table in a bright Western dining-
room just as they were here.
Noboru came down wearing a new tie, and New Year’s
congratulations were exchanged. In previous years Nob-
oru had always drunk the first toast, but when the time
came and he reached for the uppermost and smallest
of the three cups, Fusako stopped him with a reproving
Pretending to be embarrassed, he simpered:
‘It seems pretty silly for Mr Tsukazaki to drink out of
the smallest.’ But his eyes never left the cup. It seemed to
wither in the grasp of the huge, calloused hand that
carried it to the sailor’s lips. Buried under the thick fingers
of a hand accustomed to grappling rope, the vermilion
plum-branch cup looked horribly vulgar.
When he had finished the toast, Ryuji began an
account of a hurricane in the Caribbean before Noboru
even had a chance to coax him :
‘When the pitching gets really bad you can hardly
cook your rice. But you manage somehow and then eat
it plain, just squeezed into little balls. Of course, the
bowls won’t stay put on a table, so you push the desks
in the saloon up against the wall and sit on the floor and
try to gulp it down.
‘But this hurricane in the Caribbean was really some-
thing. The Rakuyo was built overseas more than twenty
years ago and she starts leaking when you hit rough
weather. Well, this time the water came pouring in around
the rivet holes in the hull. And at a time like that there’s
no difference between officers and deck-hands, everybody
works together like drowning rats, bailing and throwing
mats down and pouring cement as fast as you can get it
mixed. And even if you get slammed against a wall or
hurled into the dark when the power cuts out, you haven’t
got time to be scared.
*1*11 tell you one thing, though: no matter how long
you’ve been on a ship, you never get used to storms. I
mean you’re sure every time you run into one that your
number is up. Anyway, the day before this last hurricane
the sunset looked too much like a big fire and the red in
the sky was kind of murky and the water was quiet as a
lake. I had a sort of feeling then that something was
‘Stop it, please stop!’ Fusako screamed, clapping her
hands over her ears. ‘Please don’t talk about things like
that any more.’
His mother’s histrionics annoyed Noboru: why did she
have to cover her ears and protest about an adventure
story which was obviously being told for his benefit ? Or
had it been intended mainly for her ?
The thought made him uncomfortable. Ryuji had told
the same sort of sea story before, but this time his delivery
seemed different. The tone of his voice reminded Noboru
of a pedlar selling sundry wares while he handled them
with dirty hands. Unsling a pack from your back and
spread it open on the ground for all to see: one hurricane
Caribbean-style - scenery along the banks of the Panama
Canal - a carnival smeared in red dust from the Brazilian
countryside - a tropical rainstorm flooding a village in
the twinkling of an eye - bright parrots hollering beneath
a dark sky. ... No doubt about it : Ryuji did have a pack
On the fifth of January the Rakuyo sailed and Ryuji was
not aboard. He stayed on as a guest in the Kuroda house.
Rex opened on the sixth. Relieved and in high spirits
because Ryuji had stayed behind, Fusako arrived at the
shop just before noon and received New Year’s con-
gratulations from Mr Shibuya and the rest of the staff.
Waiting on her desk was an invoice from an English
Messrs Rex Ltd, Yokohama
order no. 1062 -b
The shipment had arrived during the vacation on the
El Dorado ; there were two and a half dozen men’s vests
and pullovers, and a dozen and a half pairs of sports
trousers, sizes 34, 38, and 40. Including the ten per cent
commission for the distributor, the bill came to ninety
thousand yen. Even if they shelved the order for a month
or so they could count on clearing fifty thousand yen in
profits: half the merchandise was on special order and
could be sold at any time. And not having to worry about
depreciation no matter how long the rest remained on the
shelf was the advantage of handling English products
through a first-rate distributor. The retail prices were
established in England and their account would be can-
celled if they tried to undersell.
Mr Shibuya came into the office and announced: ‘The
Jackson Company is having a pre-season showing of their
spring and summer collections on the twenty-fifth. We
have received an invitation.’
‘Oh? I suppose that means we’ll be competing with
buyers from the big Tokyo stores again - not that those
people aren’t all blind as bats.’
‘They have no feel for fabric or design because they
have never worn fine clothes themselves.’
‘True enough!’ Fusako noted the date in the memo
book on her desk. ‘Is it tomorrow that we’re supposed to
go to the Foreign Trade Ministry? Bureaucrats always
make me so nervous, I’ll probably just sit there and grin.
I’m counting on you to get us through.’
‘I’ll do what I can. One of the senior clerks happens
to be an old friend.’
‘Oh yes, you’ve mentioned that before - I feel better
Hoping to satisfy the tastes of some new customers, Rex
had entered into a special agreement with the Men’s
Town and Country Shop in New York: letters of credit
had already been issued and now it was up to Fusako to
apply through the Ministry of External Trade for an
‘I’ve been meaning to ask,’ Fusako said abruptly, her
eyes on the V neck of the thin old dandy’s camel-hair vest,
‘how you’ve been feeling lately.’
‘Not too well, thank you. I imagine it’s my arthritis
playing up again, but the pain seems to be spread-
‘Well, have you been to see a doctor?’
‘No, what with the holiday rush and everything . . .*
‘But you haven’t been feeling well since before the New
‘ I don’t have time to waste sitting around in a doctor’s
office, especially this time of year.’
‘I still wish you’d get someone to look at you right
away. If anything happened to you, we’d be out of
The old man smiled vaguely, one wrinkled white hand
fussing nervously with the tight knot in his tie.
A salesgirl came in to say that Miss Yoriko Kasuga
Fusako went down to the patio. This time Yoriko had
come alone. She was wearing a mink coat and peering
into a showcase with her back turned. When she had
decided on some Lancome lipstick and a Pelican fountain
pen, Fusako invited her to lunch; the famous actress
beamed with pleasure. Fusako took her to Le Centaure, a
small French restaurant near the harbour where yachts-
men often gathered. The proprietor was an old gourmet
who had once worked at the French Consulate.
Fusako looked at the actress as though to measure the
loneliness of this simple, stolid woman. Yoriko had re-
ceived not one of the awards she had been counting on for
the past year, and obviously her excursion to Yokohama
today was an escape from the eyes society levels on a star
who has failed to win an award. Though she must have
had followers beyond counting, the only person with
whom she could be frank and at ease was the proprietress
of a Yokohama luxury shop, not even a close friend.
Fusako decided it would be best not to mention film
awards during lunch.
They drank a bottle of the restaurant’s celebrated vin
de maison with their bouillabaisse. Fusako had to order
for Yoriko because she couldn’t read the French menu.
‘You know, Mama, you’re really beautiful,’ the heavily-
built beauty said abruptly. ‘I’d give anything to look like
you.’ Yoriko slighted her own beauty more than any
woman Fusako knew. The actress had marvellous breasts,
gorgeous eyes, a fine-sculptured nose, and voluptuous lips,
yet she was tormented by vague feelings of inferiority.
She even believed, and it pained her not a little, that the
awards committee had passed her by because men watch-
ing her on the screen saw only a woman they would love
to take to bed.
Fusako watched the famous, beautiful, unhappy
woman flush with contentment as she decorated her name
in an autograph book produced by the waitress. Yoriko’s
reaction to an autograph book was always a good indica-
tion of her mood. And judging from the drunken gener-
osity with which she was flourishing her pen just now, a
fan would need only to ask for one of her breasts to receive
‘The only people in this world I really trust are my
fans - even if they do forget you so quickly , 5 Yoriko
mumbled as she lit a woman’s cigarette.
‘Don’t you trust me?’ Fusako teased. She could pre-
dict Yoriko’s felicitous response to such a question.
‘Do you think I’d come all the way to Yokohama if
I didn’t? You’re the only real friend I have. Honestly,
you are. I haven’t felt so relaxed for ages and it’s all
thanks to you, Mama.’ That name again! Fusako winced.
The walls of the restaurant were decorated with water-
colour paintings of famous yachts, bright red chequered
tablecloths covered the empty tables; they were the only
people in the small room. The old window frames began
to creak in the wind and a page of a newspaper scudded
down the empty street. The window opened on a dismal
stretch of ashen warehouse walls.
Yoriko kept her mink coat draped round her shoulders
while she ate; an imposing necklace of heavy gold chain
swayed on her stately chest. She had escaped the
scandal-loving world, she had even eluded her own ambi-
tion, and now, like a muscular woman labourer lazing in
the sun between wearisome tasks, she was content. Though
her reasons for sorrow or joy rarely seemed convincing to
the observer, it was at moments like this that the source of
her vitality became apparent. She derived her strength
from something she herself was least aware of: her beauty.
Fusako had a sudden feeling that she would find in
Yoriko the ideal confidante. So she began to tell her about
Ryuji, and the happiness in the story made her so drunk
that she revealed every intimate detail.
‘ Is that right ! And did he really give you his seal and
a bankbook with two million yen on deposit ? 5
‘I tried to refuse, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.’
‘But there was no reason for you to refuse. And wasn’t
that a manly thing to do ! Of course, the money is chicken-
feed as far as you’re concerned, but it’s the spirit behind
it that counts. I would never have dreamed that there
were men like that around any more. Especially since the
only men who come near me are scroungers out for what-
ever they can get. I hope you realize how lucky you are . 5
Fusako had never dreamed that Yoriko could be prac-
tical and she was astonished when, having listened to the
whole story, the actress promptly prescribed a course of
A prerequisite of any marriage, she began, was an in-
vestigation by a private detective agency. Fusako would
need a photograph of Ryuji and about thirty thousand
yen. If she hurried the agency she could have the results
within a week. Yoriko would be happy to recommend a
Though she didn’t imagine there was any cause for
worry in this case, there was always the possibility that
a sailor might have an ugly disease: it would be best if
they exchanged health certificates, Ryuji accompanying
Fusako to a doctor of her choice.
Inasmuch as the new relationship was between father
and son and would not involve the question of a step-
mother, there would be no serious problems where Noboru
was concerned. And since Ryuji was hero-worshipped by
the boy (and seemed to be basically a gentleman), they
were certain to get on.
It would be a bad mistake to allow Ryuji to remain
idle any longer. If Fusako intended to train Ryuji to take
over Rex some day, she would be wise to start him learn-
ing the business and helping around the shop at once,
particularly since Shibuya, the manager, was beginning
to show his age.
Finally, though his gesture with the bankbook had
made clear that there was nothing mercenary about
Ryuji, the fact remained that the shipping slump had
brought maritime stocks crashing, and it was obvious
besides that he had been looking for a way out of his
career as a seaman; Fusako would have to be careful not
to compromise herself just because she was a widow. It
was up to her to insist on an equal relationship, to make
certain she was not being used.
Yoriko pressed each point home firmly but with
patience, as if she were trying to persuade a child, though
in fact Fusako was the older. Fusako was amazed to hear
a woman she had considered a fool talk such good sense.
‘I never realized you were so’ - there was new respect
in her voice - ‘so capable.’
‘It’s easy once you find out what they’re up to. A year
or so ago there was a man I thought I wanted to marry.
And I told one of our producers the whole story. Maybe
you’ve heard of him. Tatsuo Muragoshi? He’s one of the
best in the business. Anyway, it was just like him not to
mention my work or my rating or even my contract. He
just smiled the warmest smile you’ve ever seen and con-
gratulated me and then he advised me to do all the things
I’ve just told you to do. It seemed like such a nuisance,
I left everything to him. Well, in one week I found out
that a certain person was seeing three women and had
already fathered two bastards, and that wasn’t all : he was
sick, if you know what I mean. He had never held a
decent job for long, and it looked as if he was planning to
kick the rest of my family out as soon as we got married
so he could sit around swilling beer while I supported us
both. What do you think of that? That’s men for you.
Not that there aren’t exceptions . . .’
From that moment Fusako loathed the actress, and her
hatred was charged with the indignation of an honest,
respectable bourgeois. She took Yoriko’s unwitting innu-
endo not only as an attack on Ryuji but also as an insult
to her own family and upbringing, and an affront to the
refined traditions of the Kuroda house which amounted
to a slur on her dead husband’s honour.
In the first place, their backgrounds were entirely
different, and there was no reason why her love affair
should develop in a pattern familiar to Yoriko. Sooner
or later I’m going to have to make her understand.
There’s nothing I can do now , though , because she’s just
a customer, not a friend .
Fusako didn’t notice that the position she was taking in
her rage was a contradiction of that violent summer
passion. Deep inside, she was angry not so much for her
dead husband as for the respectable household she had
maintained for herself and her son since his death. And
Yoriko’s insinuation had sounded like the thing she
dreaded most, society’s first thrust of reproach at her ‘in-
discretion*. Now, just as an appropriate ‘happy ending*
was about to atone for that indiscretion, Yoriko had cast
a pall over it. Purposely! Angry for her dead husband,
angry for the Kuroda house, angry for Noboru - goaded
by every anger that apprehension can breed, Fusako
If Ryuji were really an opportunist with all kinds of
dreadful secrets , I would never have fallen in love with
him . Yoriko may be a gullible fool , but I happen to have
a sound sense of what’s good and what’s bad . The thought
was equivalent to a denial of that unaccountable summer
passion, yet the whispering inside her began suddenly to
seethe, to swell until it threatened to burst out.
Unaware of her friend’s agitation, Yoriko sipped her
coffee contentedly. Abruptly, as though she had remem-
bered something, she set the cup in its saucer and, turning
back the cuff of her left sleeve, pointed to the white inner
side of her wrist.
‘You must promise to keep this a secret. I wouldn’t tell
anyone but you, Mama. It*s the scar from that time I was
supposed to get married - I tried to kill myself with a
‘That’s strange - I don’t remember seeing anything
about it in the papers,’ Fusako taunted, herself again.
‘No, because Mr Muragoshi ran all over the city and
managed to keep the news hushed up. But it bled and
Yoriko held her arm up in front of her and touched
the wrist pityingly with her lips before entrusting it to
Fusako for inspection. You had to look closely to see
them at all, a few irregular whitish scars that must have
been shallow, tentative cuts. Fusako felt only contempt.
And she made a point of searching Yoriko’ s wrist as
though unable to locate the scars at all. Then she knit
sympathetic brows and said, becoming the proprietress of
Rex again: ‘What a dreadful thing! Can you imagine
how many people all over Japan would have wept if
you’d succeeded. A lovely girl like you - such a waste.
Promise me you’ll never do anything like that again.’
‘Of course I won’t, Mama, a stupid thing like that.
Those people you said would cry for me are all I have
to live for. Would you cry for me, Mama?’
‘Crying wouldn’t begin to be enough,’ Fusako crooned,
‘but let’s talk about something more pleasant.’
Ordinarily, Fusako would have considered going to a
private detective agency an inauspicious beginning, but
now she was determined out of spite to receive a favour-
able report from the same people who had damned
Yoriko’s prospective husband.
‘You know what?’ she began. ‘I have to go up to
Tokyo with Mr Shibuya tomorrow anyway, and when
we’ve finished what we have to do I think I’ll get rid of
him and drop in at that investigation service you men-
tioned. If you could just write me a note of introduction?’
‘Delighted.’ Yoriko took out the fountain pen she had
just bought and, fumbling through the contents of her
alligator pocketbook, came up with a small white card.
A week and a day later Fusako had a long telephone
conversation with Yoriko. She sounded proud: ‘I just
wanted to call and thank you, I’m so grateful. I did just
as you suggested . . . yes, a great success. The report is
really very interesting. Thirty thousand yen is cheap
when you consider all the trouble they must have taken.
Would you like to hear it? I mean, do you have a minute?
Do me a favour then and let me read it to you :
‘“Special Investigation - Confidential Report. The
following are the findings of an investigation into the
affairs of Ryuji Tsukazaki as stipulated by the client.
“‘One: particulars as indicated - subject’s criminal
record, relations with women, etc. Particulars of the sub-
ject’s personal history coincide precisely with information
in the client’s possession. The mother, Masako, died when
the subject was ten years of age. The father, Hajime, was
employed as a clerk in the Katsushita Ward Office in
Tokyo. He did not remarry after his wife’s death, devoting
himself to raising and educating his only son. The family
home was destroyed in an air raid in March of 1945. The
subject’s sister, Yoshiko, died of typhus in May of the
same year. The subject graduated from the merchant-
marine high school ...”
‘ It goes on and on that way. Isn’t the writing terrible ?
Let me skip ahead: “ ... as for the subject’s relations with
women, he is not at present involved with a woman nor
is there any indication that he has ever cohabited with a
woman or even engaged in a prolonged or significant
‘That’s really summing it up, wouldn’t you say!
. . though the subject displays slightly eccentric
tendencies, he is conscientious about his work, highly re-
sponsible, and extremely healthy: he has never had a
serious illness. Results of the investigation to date show
no history of mental illness or other hereditary disease in
the immediate family . . .’
‘There was one more thing - yes, here it is: “The sub-
ject has no debts; he has never borrowed in advance of
his salary nor has he ever owed money to his employer.
All indications point to a spotless financial record. The
subject is known to prefer solitude to company and has
never been at ease socially; accordingly, he does not
always get on well with his colleagues . .
‘As long as we get on well that’s all that matters. Oh ?
Someone at the door? I’ll let you go then. I just wanted
to thank you for being so very kind, I’m truly grateful. I
hope we’ll be seeing you at the shop again soon . . . Ryuji ?
Yes, he’s been coming in every day since last week, just as
you suggested. You know, getting to know his way
around. You’ll meet him next time you come down . . .
yes . . . yes, I will. And thanks again. Good-bye/
School began on the eleventh but classes were over at
noon. The gang hadn’t met at all during the vacation.
The Chief hadn’t even been in town: his parents had
dragged him off on a sightseeing trip to Kyoto and Nara.
Together again at last, they decided after eating lunch
at school that the tip of Yamashita Pier, which was
always deserted, would be a good place for a meeting.
‘You fellows probably think it’s freezing out there.
Everybody does, but they’re all wrong,’ the Chief
announced. ‘There happens to be a very good windbreak.
You’ll see when we get there.’
Since noon the sky had been cloudy and it was getting
colder. The north wind, blowing down on them as they
walked out along the pier, burned like icy fire.
Reclamation of the foreshore had been completed but
one of the new docks was still under construction. The sea
was undulating greyly; three buoys, washed by endless
waves, were bobbing up and down. The only distinct
objects in the murky factory jungle across the harbour
were the five chimneys of an electric power plant ; brack-
ish yellow smoke struggled above the blurred line of
factory rooftops. Beyond and far to the left of the dock,
the pair of squat red-and-white lighthouses which formed
the gateway to the harbour looked from here like a single
Moored at the dock in front of the shed to the right of
them was a five- or six-thousand- ton freighter in terrible
disrepair, a grey banner drooping from the stem. On the
far side of the shed, in a berth they couldn’t see, a foreign
ship was apparently at anchor. The swaying of her beau-
tiful white spars, which spired above the shed, was the
only bright motion in the gloomy scene.
They saw immediately what the Chief’s windbreak was.
Piled from the warehouse to the edge of the sea-wall was
a jumbled village of green-and-silver packing crates, each
large enough to accommodate a small cow. Large ply-
wood boxes reinforced with tough steel bands and
stamped with the names of foreign exporters, they had
been left on the pier to rot.
The boys whooped down on the village and began a
wild free-for-all, lurking between crates and leaping out
in flying tackles or chasing each other in and out among
the disordered rows. They were all soaked with sweat by
the time the Chief discovered at the very centre of the
village a large crate that was to his liking: two of the sides
had fallen away but the steel band was still intact and the
contents had been removed down to the last wisp of wood
Shouting in a shrike’s voice, the Chief assembled the
scattered band inside the crate. Three sat on the floor,
three stood in the comers, arms resting on the steel band.
They felt as if their outlandish vehicle was about to
ascend on the arm of a crane into the cloudy winter sky.
Scribblings covered the plywood walls; they read each
of them aloud: let’s meet in yamashita park -
FORGET IT ALL AND TRY HAVING SOME FUN . . . like
linked verses in a classical poem, each line was a clever
distortion of the hopes and dreams in the preceding line:
WE NEED TO FALL IN LOVE, PAL - FORGET WOMEN.
WHO NEEDS THEM? - DON’T NEVER FORGET YOUR
DREAM - GOT A BLACK SCAR ON MY BLUE BLUE
heart. . . peeping out of a comer was a young sailor’s
trembling soul: i have changed, i’m a new man. A
freighter sketched in black let fly four arrow markers: the
arrow at the left indicated Yokohama, the arrow at the
right, new york; the third arrow aspired to heaven
and the last plummeted towards hell. Scrawled in
English capitals and emphatically circled were the words
all forget, and there was a self-portrait, a sailor with
mournful eyes wearing a pea-jacket with upturned collar
and smoking a seaman’s pipe. The story was of the sailor’s
loneliness and his longings, and it was told with self-
importance and overwhelming melancholy. Too stereo-
typed to be true. A sadly determined exaggeration of his
qualifications for dreaming about himself.
‘This crap’s all lies,’ the Chief said angrily. Doubling
his powerless white hand into a fist he pummelled the ply-
wood wall. His small hand was for all of the boys a symbol
of despair. Now they were rejected even by lies. But
hadn’t the Chief said once that there was a label called
‘impossibility’ pasted all over the world, that they were
the only ones who could tear it off once and for all ?
'What’s your hero been up to since last time? Well,
Number Three ? There’s a rumour going around that he’s
come back . . .’ The Chief felt every eye on him and his
voice was cold, venomous. As he spoke, he pulled out
of the pockets of his overcoat a pair of leather gloves and,
smoothing them over his fingfers, turned back the cuffs
just enough for the fluffy bright-red lining to show.
‘He’s back,’ Noboru admitted, wishing the subject
hadn’t come up.
‘And ? Did he do anything terrific during this last trip ? ’
‘Well . . . yes! He ran into a hurricane in the Carib-
‘ Is that right ! I suppose he got soaked like a drowned
rat? Like that time he took a shower in the drinking foun-
tain at the park?’
At this everyone laughed and laughed. Noboru knew
he was being ridiculed, but he quickly regained his pride
and was able to report on Ryuji’s activities as though he
were describing the habits of an insect.
The sailor had lolled around the house until the
seventh. When Noboru learned that the Rakuyo had
sailed on the fifth, he was stunned. This man, so at one
with the Rakuyo’s existence, so inseparably a part of the
receding lustre of a ship, had sundered himself from that
beautiful whole, wilfully banished from his dream the
phantoms of ships and the sea !
Naturally Noboru stuck close to Ryuji during the holi-
day and listened to sea stories by the hour, gaining a
knowledge of sailing none of the others could match.
What he wanted, though, was not that knowledge but
the green drop the sailor would leave behind when some
day, in the very middle of a story, he started up in agita-
tion and soared out to sea again.
The phantoms of the sea and ships and ocean voyages
existed only in that glistening green drop. But with each
new day, another of the abominable odours of shore rou-
tine adhered to the sailor: the odour of home, the odour of
neighbours, the odour of peace, odours of fish frying and
pleasantries and furniture that never budged, the odour
of household budget books and weekend excursions . . .
all the putrid odours landsmen reek of, the stench of
Then began the laborious projects: Ryuji read the silly
novels and art books recommended by Fusako, and
studied English conversation, a class each night on tele-
vision and a text empty of nautical terms; he listened to
Fusako’s lectures on problems of store management; he
learned to wear the 'smart 5 English clothes she lavished
on him; he had suits tailored, and vests, and overcoats;
and then, from the eighth of January, he began going to
the shop every day. That first morning, natty in a new
suit of English tweed they had rushed to have ready in
time, cheerful, expectant, eager . . .
‘Eager . 5 Noboru spoke the word as though he had ice
on the tip of his tongue.
‘Eager , 5 mimicked Number Two.
The boys stopped laughing as they listened. Gradually
they realized how grave the situation was. It seemed to
indicate the end of a dream they shared, and its replace-
ment by a bleak, dreary future. And maybe they had been
wrong: maybe there was no such thing as the ultimate
Through a narrow gap between two crates, they
glimpsed a motor launch knifing whitecaps as it angled
across the harbour. The whine of the engine hovered
over the water long after the boat was out of sight.
‘Number Three, 5 the Chief began, leaning languidly
against the plywood wall, ‘would you like to make that
sailor a hero again ? 5
Suddenly Noboru felt cold ; he crouched and began to
toy with the pointed tips of his shoes. The answer when it
finally came was an evasion: ‘But you know, he still
keeps his sailor cap and his pea-jacket and even his dirty
old turtleneck sweater folded away in his cupboard. You
can tell he doesn’t want to throw them away. 5
‘There’s just one way to make him a hero again,’ the
Chief continued, giving no indication that he had heard
Noboru, ‘but I can’t tell you what it is yet. The time will
come, though, and soon.’
The others were forbidden to probe for the answer when
the Chief chose to speak in riddles. Effortlessly changing
the subject, he focused the conversation on himself.
‘Let me tell you about my holiday. On this trip we
took, I was rubbing noses with my people every day
from morning to night for the first time in quite a while.
Fathers! Just think about it for a minute - they’re enough
to make you puke. Fathers are evil itself, laden with every-
thing ugly in Man.
‘There is no such thing as a good father because the
role itself is bad. Strict fathers, soft fathers, nice moderate
fathers - one’s as bad as another. They stand in the way
of our progress while they try to burden us with their
inferiority complexes, and their unrealized aspirations,
and their resentments, and their ideals, and the weak-
nesses they’ve never told anyone about, and their sins,
and their sweeter-than-honey dreams, and the maxims
they’ve never had the courage to live by - they’d like to
unload all that silly crap on us, all of it! Even the most
neglectful fathers, like mine, are no different. Their
consciences hurt them because they’ve never paid any
attention to their children and they want the kids to under-
stand just how bad the pain is — to sympathize !
‘On New Year’s Day we went to Arashi Yania in
Kyoto and as we were crossing the Bridge of Moons I
asked my old man a question: “Dad, is there any purpose
in life?” You see what I was getting at, don’t you, what
I really meant? Father, can you give me one single
reason why you go on living? Wouldn’t it be better just
to fade away as quickly as possible? But a first-class in-
sinuation never reaches a man like that. He just looked
surprised and his eyes popped and he stared at me. I
hate that kind of ridiculous adult surprise. And when he
finally answered, what do you think he said? “Son, no-
body is going to provide you with a purpose in life; you’ve
got to make one for yourself.”
‘How’s that for a stupid, hackneyed moral! He just
pressed a button and out came one of the things fathers
are supposed to say. And did you ever look at a father’s
eyes at a time like that? They’re suspicious of anything
creative, anxious to whittle the world down into some-
thing puny they can handle. A father is a reality-conceal-
ing machine, a machine for dishing up lies to kids, and
that isn’t even the worst of it: secretly he believes that he
‘Fathers are the flies of this world. They hover round
our heads waiting for a chance, and when they see some-
thing rotten, they buzz in and root in it. Filthy, lecherous
flies broadcasting to the whole world that they’ve screwed
our mothers. And there’s nothing they won’t do to con-
taminate our freedom and our ability. Nothing they
won’t do to protect the filthy cities they’ve built for them-
‘My old man still won’t buy me an air rifle,’ Number
Two murmured, his arms round his knees.
‘And he never will, either. But it’s time you realized
that a father who would buy you an air rifle is just as bad
as one who won’t.’
‘My father beat me again yesterday. That makes the
third time since the New Year.’
‘Beat you ?’ Noboru repeated in horror.
‘He slaps me across the face. Sometimes he even
‘ Why don’t you do something ? ’
‘’Cause I’m not strong enough to take him on.’
‘Then you should - why don’t you’ - Noboru’s face
was bright red and he was shouting - ‘ butter his toast with
potassium cyanide or something like that ! ’
‘There are worse things than being beaten.’ The Chief’s
thin red upper lip curled. ‘There are lots of things worse
than that, only you don’t know about them. You’re one
of the fortunate ones. When your father died your case
became special. But you’ve got to know about the evil in
the world too; otherwise you’ll never have any real
‘ My old man is always coming home drunk and bully-
ing my mother,’ Number Four said. ‘And when I stood
up for her one time he got white as a sheet and grinned
and said: “Keep out of this. You want to take away your
mother’s pleasure?” But this time I’ve got something on
him. He’s g6t three mistresses.’
‘All my father ever does is pray to God,’ said Number
Noboru asked what he prayed for.
‘Well, the family’s safety, peace on earth, prosperity
- stuff like that. He thinks we’re a model home or
something. The bad part is he’s even got my old lady
thinking the same thing. The whole house is spick-and-
span and everybody’s supposed to be real honest and full of
what he calls “the good”. We even leave food out for the
mice in the rafters so they won’t have to sin by stealing.
And you know what happens when dinner’s over ? Every-
body hunches over and licks his plate clean so none of
God’s grace will be wasted.’
‘Does your old man make you do that too ?’
‘He never makes you do anything. He starts doing all
this crappy stuff himself and everybody else is sort of in
the habit of copying him. . . . You’re really lucky, Nob-
oru. You should be thankful.’
Noboru was vexed at his immunity from the germs
that infected the others, but at the same time he trembled
at the fragility of his chance good fortune. Some pro-
vidence he couldn’t name had exempted him from evil.
His purity was as brittle as a new moon. His innocence
had sent an intricate net of feelers snaking towards the
world, but when would they be snapped? When would
the world lose its vastness and lace him in a strait jacket ?
That day, he knew, was not far away, and even now he
could feel a lunatic courage welling within him . . .
The Chief had turned away so as not to see Noboru’s
face. He was peering through a narrow gap in the crates
at the convolutions of the smoke and clouds above the
grey offing. He bit with small sharp shiny teeth at the red
lining of his leather gloves.
His mother’s attitude changed. She became more affec-
tionate, devoted more time to looking after his needs.
Obviously this was the prelude to something he was going
to find difficult to accept.
One evening Noboru had said good night and was on
his way up to bed when Fusako climbed the stairs behind
him, calling, with a key ring in her hand: ‘The key - I
almost forgot the key! 5 In this he sensed something un-
natural. She always came upstairs with him to lock his
bedroom door and some nights she was gay and some
nights sullen, but this was the first time she had ever made
a speech about the key.
And then Ryuji, who was sitting in the living-room in a
maroon checked dressing-gown reading a book called The
Reality of Merchandising , looked up as though he had just
happened to overhear, and called his mother’s name.
‘Yes, Ryuji? 5 she said, turning on the stairs. Noboru
shuddered at the fawning sweetness in her voice.
‘ Don’t you think it’s time you stopped locking the boy’s
door? After all, Noboru 5 s not a child any more and he
knows what he should do and what he shouldn’t. Isn’t
that right, Noboru ? 5
The big voice from the living-room lumbered up the
stairs. In the darkness at the top, Noboru froze like a small
animal at bay, silent, his eyes gleaming. Fusako, who was
maintaining a gentleness as smooth as oil, didn’t even
scold him for not answering.
‘Well, I bet I know one happy young man around
here, 5 she said as she led him into his room. She checked
the textbooks on his desk against a timetable of classes for
the next day and examined the points on his pencils.
Ryuji had been helping him with maths every night and
his marks had improved. Fusako’s body, as she wandered
round the room putting things in order, seemed so in-
ordinately light and her movements so smooth that it was
like watching an underwater dance. Finally she said good
night and left. The long-familiar click of the lock never
As soon as he found himself alone, Noboru was un-
easy. He had seen through the trick. But there was no
comfort in that at all.
It was a trap - a rabbit trap. The grown-ups expected
the captive animal’s rage and the familiar odours of his
lair to transform themselves into the resignation and
tolerance of a creature who has confined himself. A
hideously subtle trap: the rabbit, ensnared, was no longer
His uneasiness at being in the unlocked room made him
shiver even after he had buttoned his pyjamas to the
neck. They were beginning his education, a terrific,
destructive education. Trying to force maturity on a
thirteen-year-old boy. Maturity or, as the Chief would
call it, perversion . Noboru ? s feverish brain was pursuing
an impossibility: Is there no way that I can remain in the
room and at the same time be out in the hall locking the
A few days later he came home from school to find
Ryuji and Fusako dressed for the evening and was told
that they were all going to see a film. It was a seventy-
millimetre spectacular Noboru had been wanting to see
and he was very pleased.
After the film they went to a restaurant in Chinatown
and had dinner in a small private room upstairs. Noboru
loved Chinese food; and he liked the dish-laden wooden
tray which spun round and round in the centre of the
When all the food had been brought to the table,
Ryuji signalled Fusako with his eyes. Apparently she was
not prepared to face the moment sober : she had been
sipping Chinese Lao-chu wine and already her eyes were
a little red.
Noboru had never received such cordial treatment from
the adults, nor had he ever seen them so ridiculously hesi-
tant in his presence. It seemed to be some special adult
ritual. He knew what they were going to say and it in-
terested him very litde. But he enjoyed watching them
handle him from across the table as though he were a
vulnerable, easily frightened, and all-innocent little bird
- that was a real spectacle. They had laid the tender,
down-ruffled little bird on a platter and appeared now to
be pondering a way to eat out its heart without causing it
Noboru didn’t really object to the darling image of him-
self he knew Ryuji and his mother entertained in their
imaginations. He would just have to be careful to look
‘Noboru dear, I want you to listen carefully to what
Mother is going to say because it’s something very im-
portant,’ Fusako began finally. ‘You’re going to have a
dad again. Mr Tsukazaki is going to be your new father.’
As he listened Noboru succeeded in keeping his face a
blank, and he was confident that he looked utterly be-
wildered. So far, so good. But he hadn’t counted on the
incredible nonsense that followed:
‘Your real dad was a wonderful man. You were eight
years old when he passed away, so you must remember
him and miss him very much. But I can’t tell you how
lonely Mother has been these past five years, and I know
you’ve been lonely too. And you must have thought lots
of times that both of us needed a new dad. I want you to
understand, dear, how much I’ve wanted a strong, gentle,
wonderful dad for both our sakes. And it’s been all the
harder because your father was such a fine, honest man.
But you’re a grown-up now, so I know you’ll understand:
how hard these five years have been, and how lonely,
with just the two of us . . .’ She fumbled an imported
handkerchief out of her purse and began to cry: it was
really too silly.
‘Everything I’ve done has been for you, dear - every-
thing. There isn’t another man in this world as strong and
as gentle and as wonderful in every way as Mr Tsukazaki.
Noboru, I want you to call Mr Tsukazaki Dad now;
we’re going to be married early next month and we’ll
invite lots of friends and have a lovely party.’
Ryuji had averted his eyes from Noboru’s impassive
face and was engrossed in drinking, adding crystal sugar
to the Lao-chu wine, stirring, tossing off the cup, and
pouring himself another. He was afraid of seeming brazen
to the boy.
Noboru knew that he was being feared as well as pitied,
and the gentle threat had made him drunk: when he
levelled the full iciness of his heart at the adults, a smile
was playing at the comers of his mouth. It was hardly
more than a wisp of a smile, the kind you see on the face
of a schoolboy who has come to class unprepared but cock-
sure as a man leaping off a cliff; and yet, on the other side
of the red formica table, Ryuji saw it out of the comer of
his eye and snatched it up. Again, a misunderstanding.
The grin he flashed back was the same brand of exag-
gerated glee as his smile that day near the park when, to
Noboru’s intense disappointment and humiliation, he had
appeared in a dripping-wet shirt.
‘Fair enough. Then I won’t call you Noboru any more.
From now on, it’s Son. What do you say, Son? Shake
hands with Dad.’ Ryuji placed one hard open hand on the
table; Noboru struggled towards it as though he were
paddling under water. No matter how he stretched,
Ryuji’s fingers seemed just beyond reach. At last their
hands met, thick fingers grasped his own, and the hot,
calloused handshake began. Noboru felt a whirlwind
catch him up and spin him away towards the tepid, form-
less world he dreaded most . . .
That night, as soon as Fusako had left his room and
closed the door without locking it, Noboru’s head began
to swim. Hard heart . . . hard heart: he tried repeating the
words to himself, but that only made him want to hold
the genuine article in his hand. Hard as an iron
anchor . . .
Before leaving the room, his mother had turned off the
gas heater. Now heat and cold were mingled in a pocket
of tepid air. If he could just brush his teeth, put on his
pyjamas in a hurry, and jump into bed, he would be all
But an evasive languor made even removing his turtle-
neck sweater seem a wearisome task. Never had he
waited so anxiously for his mother to reappear, to come
back to his room, for example, to mention something she
had forgotten to say. Nor had he ever felt such contempt
He waited in the gradually mounting cold. And, weary
of waiting, he abandoned himself to an absurd fantasy.
His mother had come back and she was shouting: It was
all a lie. Vm so sorry to have made a game out of fooling
you. Will you forgive me? We are most certainly not
going to get married. If we did a thing like that the world
would turn to chaos: ten tankers would sink in the har-
bour, and a thousand trains would be derailed; the glass
in the windows all over the city would shatter, and every
lovely rose would turn black as coal.
But she did not come back and finally Noboru con-
trived a situation in which her return would mean real
trouble. He could no longer distinguish cause from effect;
possibly this unreasonable yearning for his mother was due
to a desire to wound her even if he had to share the pain.
The courage propelling him now was frightening: his
hands began to tremble. He hadn’t touched the dresser
since the night Fusako had stopped locking his door.
There was a reason: shortly after Ryuji’s return on the
morning of the thirtieth of December, he had observed
them through the peephole and managed to watch the
progression of merging shapes to its dazzling climax; but
the danger in sneaking into the wall in broad daylight,
with the door not even locked, had discouraged him from
risking the adventure again.
But now he felt like invoking curses, and longed for a
small revolution. If he were really a genius and the world
mere emptiness, then why shouldn’t he have the ability to
prove it? He would have only to open a tiny crack in the
glossy teacup of a world the adults believed in.
Noboru bolted to the dresser and seized the handle.
Ordinarily he removed the drawer as quietly as possible
but this time he wrenched it loose and dropped it to the
floor. Then he stood and listened. Not a sound in response
from anywhere in the house, no footsteps thudding up the
stairs, nothing. The stillness was absolute but for the
pounding in his chest.
Noboru looked at his watch. It was only ten o’clock.
Then a strange plot took shape in his mind: he would do
his homework inside the dresser. The irony was beautiful,
and what better way to mock the meanness of their sus-
Taking a torch and some English word cards, he
wriggled into the chest. A mysterious force would draw
his mother to the room. She would find him in the chest
and guess his purpose. Shame and rage would inflame her.
She would haul him out of the dresser and slap his face;
then he would show her the word cards and protest, with
eyes as innocent as a lamb’s: ‘But what did I do wrong?
I was only studying. It’s easier to concentrate in a small
space. . . .’ He stopped imagining the episode and
laughed out loud, gasping in the dusty air.
The moment he huddled inside the chest he was calm
again. The trembling and the trepidation seemed almost
funny now; he even had a feeling he would be able to
study well. Not that it really mattered: this was the
world’s outer edge. So long as he was here, Noboru was in
contact with the naked universe. No matter how far you
ran, escape beyond this point was impossible.
Bending his arms in the cramped space, he began to
read the cards by the light of the torch.
By now this word was an old acquaintance: he knew
Was that any different from genius?
A ship again; he recalled the loudspeaker ringing across
the deck that day when Ryuji sailed. And then the
colossal, golden siren, like a proclamation of despair.
He didn’t even turn off the torch, sinking, before he
knew it, into sleep.
It was close on midnight when Ryuji and Fusako went
up to the bedroom. The announcement at dinner had
relieved them of a great weight and they felt that a new
phase was beginning.
But when it was time to go to bed, a strange shame
stirred in Fusako. All evening she had discussed matters
of importance, touched too lingeringly on the emotions
of kinship, and now, in addition to a deep sense of quiet
and relief, she felt embarrassed in the presence of some-
thing she couldn’t name, something unaccountably
Choosing a black negligee she knew Ryuji liked Fusako
got into bed and, disregarding for the first time Ryuji’s
preference for a brightly lit room, asked him to turn out
all the lights. He embraced her in the dark.
When it was done Fusako said: T thought I wouldn’t
feel embarrassed if all the lights were out, but it was just
the opposite. The darkness becomes a huge eye and you
feel as if you’re being watched the whole time.’
Ryuji laughed at her nervousness and glanced around
the room. The curtains on the windows shut out all light
from the street. The gas heater burning in one corner gave
off a pale reflection erf bluish light. It was just like the
night sky above a small distant city. The frail lustre of the
brass bedposts trembled in the darkness.
Then Ryuji’ s eye fell on the wainscot along the wall
adjoining the next room. From one spot on the ornately
carved wooden border, light was trickling into the room.
T wonder what that is,’ he mused aloud. ‘Do you think
Noboru’s still up? You know, this place is getting pretty
run-down. I’d better seal that up in the morning. 5
Like a snake coiling for the strike, Fusako lifted her
bare white neck from the bed and peered through the
darkness at the point of light. She comprehended with
terrific speed. One movement carried her out of bed and
into a dressing-gown; then she bolted from the room
without a word. Ryuji called after her but there was no
He heard Noboru’s door open. Silence. A muffled sound
that might have been Fusako crying; Ryuji slid out of
bed. He paced the floor in the darkness trying to decide
whether he should go straight in or wait, and finally,
sitting down on the couch near the window, fit a cigarette.
Noboru started from sleep as something ferociously
strong hauled him out of the dresser by the seat of his
pants. For a minute, he didn’t realize what had hap-
pened. His mother’s slender, supple hands were falling
on his nose, lips and mouth, and he couldn’t keep his
eyes open. It was the first time she had ever laid hands on
He lay almost prostrate on the floor, one of his legs
thrust into a tangle of shirts and underwear scattered
when they had stumbled over the drawer. He hadn’t
imagined his mother could muster such terrific strength.
Finally he managed to look up at the panting figure
glaring down at him.
The skirts of her dark-blue robe were wide open, the
fleshy swells of her lower body looked grotesquely massive
and threatening. Soaring high above the gradually taper-
ing trunk was her face, gasping, grief-stricken, turned
horribly old in an instant and drenched in tears. The bulb
in the distant ceiling wreathed her bedraggled hair with a
All this Noboru took in at a glance and at the back of
his icy brain a memory stirred: it was as if he had par-
ticipated in this same moment a long time ago. This,
beyond a doubt, was the punishment scene he had
watched so often in his dreams.
His mother began to sob and, still glaring down at him
through her tears, she screamed in tones he could scarcely
understand: ‘It’s humiliating - it’s just so humiliating!
My own son, a filthy, disgusting thing like that - I could
die this very minute! Oh, Noboru, how could you have
done this tome! 3
To his surprise, Noboru discovered that he had lost all
desire to protest that he had been studying English. Not
that this would have made any difference now. Obviously,
his mother was not mistaken; and she had brushed against
‘reality 3 , a thing she dreaded worse than leeches. In one
sense, that made them more nearly equal now than they
had ever been: it was almost empathy. Pressing his palms
to his reddened, burning cheeks, Noboru resolved to
watch carefully how a person drawn so near could retreat
in one fleeting instant to an unattainable distance. Clearly
it was not the discovery of reality itself that had spawned
her indignation and her grief: Noboru knew that his
mother’s shame and despair derived from a kind of
prejudice. She had been quick to interpret the reality,
and inasmuch as her banal interpretation was the cause
of all her agitation, no clever excuse from him would serve
‘I’m afraid this is more than I can handle, 5 Fusako said
finally, her voice ominously quiet. ‘A frightening child
like this is too much for me. . . . You just wait a minute!
I’m going to see that Father punishes you so that you
won’t dare think of this kind of thing again. 5 It was clear
that Fusako expected her threat to make Noboru cry and
But then her resolution faltered; for the first time, she
considered dealing with the problem later. If she could
get Noboru to apologize before Ryuji came into the room,
she would be able to hide the details from him and save
her pride as a mother. In that case the tears and the
apology would have to come quickly; but she couldn’t
suggest that mother and son conspire to resolve the prob-
lem, for she had threatened that the father would punish
him. She could only wait in silence.
But Noboru didn’t say a word. He was interested only
in the ultimate destination of the great engine now in
motion. In that dark hole inside the chest he had stood
at the outermost limit of his world, at the edge of the seas
and the deserts. And because all things took life there,
because he was to be punished for having been there, he
could not return to the tepid towns of men, nor lower his
face to their tear-moistened lawns. On the oath he had
sworn to that beautiful pinnacle of humanity swathed in
the roar of that siren, sworn to the gleaming representa-
tives of order he had seen through the peephole that
summer night, he could never turn back again.
The door opened tentatively and Ryuji peeped into the
Fusako saw that she and her son had lost an opportunity,
and she grew angry again. Either Ryuji should have stayed
away altogether or he should have come in with her at
Irritated by Ryuji’s clumsy entrance and struggling to
sort out her feelings, Fusako became more furious with
Noboru than ever.
‘Would you mind telling me what’s going on here?’
Ryuji said as he came into the room.
‘I want you to punish him. Father. If this child isn’t
beaten within an inch of his life the evil in him will keep
getting worse. He was spying on us through a hole in the
‘Is that right, Son?’ There was no anger in Ryuji’s
Still sprawled on the floor, his legs flung out in front of
him, Noboru nodded.
‘I see. . . . Well, I suppose the idea just sort of hit you
all of a sudden and you tried it tonight ?’
Noboru shook his head emphatically.
‘Oh? Then you’ve done the same thing maybe once or
Again Noboru shook his head.
‘ Then this has been going on from the very beginning ? *
Seeing the boy nod, Fusako and Ryuji exchanged
involuntary glances. Noboru had a pleasant vision of the
lightning in the adults’ gaze iUuminating the life on shore
that Ryuji dreamed about and Fusako’s respectable house-
hold as they crashed noisily into rubble - but in his ex-
citement he had given too free a rein to his imagination.
He had been expecting an impassioned reaction.
‘I see,’ was all Ryuji said. His hands were stuffed into
the pockets of his dressing-gown. The hairy legs protruding
below the robe were directly in front of, Noboru’ s face.
Now Ryuji was obliged to reach a father’s decision, the
first decision about shore life he had ever been forced
to make. But his memory of the sea’s fury was tempering
his critical notions of land and the landsman with in-
ordinate mildness, and his instinctive approach to prob-
lems was therefore thwarted. To beat the boy would be
easy enough, but a difficult future awaited him. He
would have to receive their love with dignity, to deliver
them from daily dilemmas, to balance daily accounts; he
was expected in some vague, general way to comprehend
the incomprehensible feelings of the mother and the child
and to become an infallible teacher, perceiving the causes
of a situation even as unconscionable as this one; he was
dealing here with no ocean squall but the gentle breeze
that blows ceaselessly over the land.
Though Ryuji didn’t realize it, the distant influence of
the sea was at work on him again: he was unable to
distinguish the most exalted feelings from the meanest,
and suspected that vitally important things did not occur
on land. No matter how hard he tried to reach a realistic
decision, shore matters remained suffused with the hues
In the first place, it would be a mistake to interpret
literally Fusako’s plea that he beat Noboru. Sooner or
later, he knew, she would come to feel grateful for his
leniency. Besides, he found himself believing in the pater-
nal instinct. As he hurried to banish from his mind merely
dutiful concern for this reticent, precocious, bothersome
child, this boy whom he didn’t really love, Ryuji managed
to convince himself that he was brimming with genuine
fatherly affection. It seemed to him, moreover, that he
was discovering the emotion for the first time, and he was
surprised at the unpredictability of his affections.
‘I see/ he said again, lowering himself slowly to the
floor and crossing his legs.
8 You sit down too, Mother. I 5 ve been thinking, and it
seems to me that Noboru isn’t the only one to blame for
what’s happened. When I came into this house, Son,
your life changed too. Not that it was wrong for me to
come, but your life did change, and it’s natural for a boy
in junior high school to feel curious about changes in his
life. What you did was wrong, there’s no question about
that, but from now on I want you to direct that curiosity
towards your school work, do you understand ?
c You have nothing to say about what you saw. And
nothing to ask. You’re not a child any more and some day
we’ll be able to laugh together and talk about what’s
happened here as three adults. Mother, I want you to
calm down too. We’re going to forget about the past and
face the future happily, hand in hand. I’ll seal that hole
up in the morning and then we can all forget this whole
unpleasant evening. Right? What you do say, Noboru?’
Noboru listened, feeling as though he were about to
suffocate. Can this man be saying things like that? This
splendid hero who once jshone so brightly?
Every word burned like fire. He wanted to scream, as
his mother had screamed: How can you do this to me?
The sailor was saying things he was never meant to say.
Ignoble things in wheedling, honeyed tones, foul words
not meant to issue from his lips until Doomsday, words
such as men mutter in stinking lairs. And he was speaking
proudly, for he believed in himself, was satisfied with the
role of father he had stepped forward to accept.
He is satisfied . Noboru felt nauseated. Tomorrow
Ryuji’s slavish hands, the hands of a father pottering over
carpentry of a Sunday afternoon, would dose for ever the
narrow access to that unearthly brilliance which he him-
self had once revealed.
‘Right? What do you say. Son?’ Ryuji concluded,
clapping a hand on Noboru’s shoulder. He tried to shake
free and couldn’t. He was thinking that the Chief had
been right: there were worse things than being beaten.
Noboru asked the Chief to call an emergency meeting: on
their way home from school, the boys assembled at the
swimming pool next to the foreign cemetery.
Climbing down a horse’s back of a hill thick with giant
oaks was one way to reach the pool. Half-way down they
stopped and gazed through the evergreen trees at the
cemetery below: quartz sparkled in the winter light.
From this point on the hill, the tombstones and stone
crosses ranged in long terraced rows were all facing away
from them. The inky green of sago palm bloomed among
the graves; greenhouse flower cuttings laid in the shadows
of stone crosses brightened the lawn with unseasonable
reds and greens.
Above the rooftops in the valley loomed the Marine
Tower, the foreigners’ graves lay to the right, and in a
smaller valley to the left the pool waited. In the off season,
the tiered seats there made an excellent meeting-place.
Tripping over bared tree roots which swelled like tumid
black blood vessels across the face of the slope, the boys
scrambled down the hill and broke on to the withered
grass path that led into the evergreens surrounding the
pool. The pool was drained, and very quiet. The blue
paint on the bottom was chipping; dry leaves had piled
up in the comers. The blue steel ladder stopped far short
of the bottom. Banking into the west now, the sun was
hidden behind the cliffs which enclosed the valley like
folding screens: dusk had come already to the bottom of
Noboru trailed along behind the others; he could still
see in his mind the backs of all those endless foreign
graves - graves and crosses all turned away from him.
Then what would this outlandish place be called ?
They sat in a diamond pattern on the blackened con-
crete seats. Noboru took out of his briefcase a slim note-
book and handed it to the Chief without a word. Inked
on the cover in venomous red was ‘Charges against Ryuji
Craning their necks to see, the boys read the text to-
gether. It was an excerpt from Noboru ’s diary; the dresser-
drawer incident of the night before brought the number
of entries to eighteen.
‘This is terrible/ the Chief wailed. ‘This last one alone
is worth about thirty-five points. And the total - let’s see -
even if you go easy and call this first charge five points,
they get worse the closer they get to the end: I’m afraid
the total’s way over a hundred and fifty. I didn’t realize
it was quite this bad. We’re going to have to do something
As he listened to the Chief, Noboru began to tremble.
Finally he asked: ‘Is there any chance of saving him?’
‘None at all. It’s too bad, though.’
A long silence followed. This the Chief interpreted as
indicating a lack of courage and he began to speak again,
twisting between his fingers the tough vein of a dried leaf
he had pulverized: ‘All six of us are geniuses. And the
world, as you know, is empty. I know I’ve said this
before, but have you ever thought about it carefully ? Be-
cause to assume for those reasons that we are permitted to
do anything we want is sloppy thinking. As a matter of
fact, we are the ones who do the permitting. Teachers,
schools, fathers, society - we permit all those garbage
heaps. And not because we’re powerless either. Permitting
is our special privilege and if we felt any pity at all we
wouldn’t be ruthless enough to permit this. What it
amounts to is that we are constantly permitting unper-
missible things. There are only a very few really per-
missible things: like the sea, for example
‘And ships,’ Noboru added.
‘Right - anyway, very few. And if they conspire against
us, it’s just as if your own dog were to bite a hunk out of
your hand. It’s a direct insult to our special privilege.’
‘We’ve never done anything about it before,’ interrup-
ted Number One.
‘That doesn’t mean we’re never going to,’ the Chief
answered adroitly, his voice benign. ‘But getting back to
Ryuji Tsukazaki,’ he continued, ‘he’s never meant much
to the group as a whole, but for Number Three he was a
person of considerable importance. At least, he’s credited
with having shown Number Three some luminous evi-
dence of the internal order of life I’ve mentioned so often.
But then he betrayed Number Three. He became the
worst thing on the face of this earth, a father. And some-
thing has to be done. It would have been much better if
he’d just stayed the useless sailor he started out by being.
‘As I’ve said before, life consists of simple symbols and
decisions. Ryuji may not have known it, but he was one of
those symbols. At least, according to Number Three’s
testimony it seems that he was.
‘I’m sure you all know where our duty lies. When a
gear slips out of place it’s our job to force it back into
position. If we don’t, order will turn to chaos. We all know
that the world is empty and that the important thing, the
only thing, is to try to maintain order in that emptiness.
And so we are guards, and more than that, because we
also have executive power to ensure that order is main-
The Chief stated the conclusion simply: ‘We’ll have
to pass sentence. In the long run it’s for his own good.
Number Three ! Do you remember that day on the pier
when I said there was only one way to make him a
hero again, and that soon I’d be able to tell you what it
‘I remember,’ Noboru answered, trying to keep his
legs from trembling.
‘Well, the time has come.’
The other boys sought each other’s faces, then sat
motionless and silent. They understood the grave im-
portance of what the Chief was about to say.
They gazed into the empty, dusk-shadowed pool.
White lines were painted on the chipped blue bottom. The
dry leaves in the comers had sifted in like dust.
At that moment, the pool was enormously deep. Deeper
and deeper as watery blue darkness seeped up from the
bottom. The knowledge, so certain it was sensuous, that
nothing was there to support the body if one plunged in
generated around the empty pool an unremitting ten-
sion. Gone now was the soft summer water that received
the swimmer’s body and bore him lightly afloat, but the
pool, like a monument to summer and to water, had en-
dured, and it was dangerous, lethal.
The blue steel ladder crept over the edge and down into
the pool and, still far from the bottom, stopped. Nothing
there to support a body, nothing at all !
‘Classes are over at two tomorrow; we can have him
meet us here and then take him out to our dry dock at
Sugita. Number Three, it’s up to you to lure him down
‘I’m going to give the rest of you instructions now.
Please remember what you’re supposed to bring. I’ll take
care of the sleeping pills and the scalpel myself. We won’t
be able to handle a powerful man like that unless we
knock him out first. Adults are supposed to take one to
three tablets of that German stuff we’ve got at home, so
he should go out like a light if we give him about seven.
I’ll make powder out of the tablets so they’ll dissolve
quicker in tea.
‘Number One, you’re fo bring some six-foot lengths of
strong hemp rope; you’d better have - let’s see - one,
two, three, four - make it five lengths just to be sure.
Number Two, you prepare a thermos of hot tea and hide
it in your briefcase. Since Number Three has the job of
getting him down here, he doesn’t have to bring any-
thing. We’ll need sugar and spoons, and paper cups for
us and a dark-coloured plastic cup for him - that’ll be
your job, Number Four. Number Five, you get some
cloth for a blindfold and a towel we can use for a gag.
‘You can each bring any kind of cutting tool you like -
knives, saws, whatever you prefer.
‘We’ve already practised the essentials on a cat and
this’ll be the same, so there’s nothing to worry about. The
job’s a little bigger this time, that’s all - and it may stink
a little worse.’
The boys sat dumb as stones and stared into the empty
‘Are you scared, Number One?* Number One man-
aged a slight shake of his head.
‘How about you, Number Two ? 5 As though suddenly
cold, the boy stuffed his hands into his overcoat pockets.
‘What’s wrong, Number Three ? 5 Noboru was gasping
for breath, his mouth utterly dry as if stuffed with straw:
he couldn’t answer.
‘That’s what I was afraid of. You’re all great talkers,
but when the chips are down you haven’t got one thimble-
ful of nerve. Well, maybe this will make you feel better;
I brought it along just in case . 5 The Chief produced from
his briefcase an ochre law-book and deftly flipped it open
to the page he wanted.
‘I want all of you to listen carefully: “Penal Code,
Article Fourteen , 55 5 he read. '“Acts of juveniles less than
fourteen years of age are not punishable by law ” I’ll
read it again as loud as I can: “Acts of juveniles less than
fourteen years of age are not punishable by law ” 9
The Chief had the others pass the book around while
he continued: ‘You might say that our fathers and the
fictitious society they believe in passed this law for our
benefit. And I think we should be grateful to them. This
law is the adults’ way of expressing the high hopes they
have for us. But it also represents all the dreams they’ve
never been able to make come true. They’ve assumed just
because they’ve roped themselves so tight they can’t even
budge that we must be helpless too; they’ve been care-
less enough to allow us here, and only here, a glimpse of
blue sky and absolute freedom.
‘This law they’ve written is a kind of nursery tale, a
pretty deadly nursery tale, I’d say. And in a way it’s
understandable. After all, up to now we have been
nursery kids, adorable, defenceless, innocent kids.
‘But three of us here will be fourteen next month -
myself, Number One, and you, Number Three. And you
other three will be fourteen in March. Just think about it
a minute. This is our last chance ! 5
The Chief scrutinized their faces and saw tension easing
out of their cheeks, fear dwindling away. Awakening for
the first time to society’s genial benevolence, the boys felt
secure in the knowledge that their enemies were actually
Noboru looked up at the sky. Afternoon blue was
fading into the shifting greys of dusk. Suppose Ryuji tried
at the height of his heroic death throes to look up at this
hallowed sky ? It seemed a shame to blindfold him.
‘This is our last chance/ the Chief repeated. ‘If we
don’t act now we will never again be able to obey free-
dom’s supreme command, to perform the deed essential
to filling the emptiness of the world, unless we are pre-
pared to sacrifice our lives. And you can see that it’s
absurd for the executioners to risk their own lives. If we
don’t act now we’ll never be able to steal again, or murder,
or do any of the things that testify to a man’s freedom.
We’ll end up puking flattery and gossip, trembling our
days away in submission and compromise and fear,
worrying about what the neighbours are doing, living
like squealing mice. And some day we’ll get married, and
have kids, and finally we’ll become fathers, the vilest
things on earth!
‘We must have blood! Human blood! If we don’t get
it this empty world will go pale and shrivel up. We must
drain that sailor’s fresh lifeblood and transfuse it to the
dying universe, the dying sky, the dying forests, and the
drawn, dying land.
‘Now! The time is now! In another month they’ll have
finished clearing the land around our dry dock and then
the place will fill up with people. Besides, we’re almost
The Chief glanced through a black frame of evergreen
branches at the watery grey sky and observed: ‘Looks
like tomorrow will be a nice day.’
On the morning of the twenty-second, Fusako went with
Ryuji to the Town Hall to ask the Mayor of Yokohama
if he would be toastmaster at their wedding dinner. He
said he would be honoured. On the way back, they
stopped at a department store and ordered engraved
wedding announcements. Bookings for the reception had
already been made at the New Grand Hotel. After an
early lunch downtown, they returned to Rex.
Just after one, Ryuji left the shop to keep an appoint-
ment he had mentioned earlier in the day. A high-school
classmate who was now a First Officer had docked that
morning at Takashima Pier and was free to meet him
only in the early afternoon. And Ryuji didn’t want to
appear in an expensive English suit. He didn’t like the
idea of flaunting his new circumstances in front of an old
friend; at least not until after the wedding. He would
stop at the house on his way to the dock and change into
his old seaman’s clothes.
‘Are you sure I don’t have to worry that you’ll get on
that ship and disappear?’ Fusako teased as she accom-
panied him to the door.
Noboru, pretending to need help with homework, had
summoned Ryuji conspiratorially to his room the night
before and entrusted him with a mission which he was
‘Dad, all the fellows are looking forward to hearing
some of your sea stories tomorrow afternoon. We’re going
to meet on that hill above the pool when school’s over at
two. Everybody’s been wanting to meet you and I prom-
ised you’d come. You will, won’t you? And tell them
some of your adventures? And would you wear your
sailor clothes like you used to, and your sailor cap ? Only
it’s got to be a secret from Mum. You could tell her
you’re going to meet an old friend or something and get
off work early.’
This was the first son-to-father favour Noboru had ever
asked and Ryuji was determined not to betray the boy’s
trust It was a father’s duty. Even if the truth came out
later it would only mean having a good laugh together, so
he had fabricated a plausible story and left the shop early.
Ryuji was sitting on the roots of a giant oak near the
top of the hill when the boys appeared just after two.
One of them, a boy with crescent eyebrows and red lips
who seemed particularly bright, thanked him politely for
having come, and then suggested that a more suitable
spot for his talk would be what he called their dry dock.
Assuming they were heading somewhere near the har-
bour, Ryuji agreed to go.
It was a mild midwinter afternoon. The shade was
chilly, but in the sun, which reached them through a
wispy layer of cloud, they didn’t need their overcoats.
Ryuji was wearing his grey turtleneck sweater and carried
his pea-jacket over his arm; the six boys, each with a brief-
case, anticked around him as he walked along, now surg-
ing ahead, now falling behind. For this generation, they
were smallish boys: the scene reminded Ryuji of six tug-
boats labouring ineffectively to tow a freighter out to
sea. He didn’t notice that their frolicking had a kind of
The boy with the crescent eyebrows informed him they
were going to take a tram. Ryuji was surprised, but made
no objection: he understood that the setting for a story
was important to boys of this age. No one made any move
to get off until the last stop at Sugita, which was far south
of the city.
‘Say, where are you fellows taking me ? 5 he asked re-
peatedly, as though amused. He had determined to spend
a day with the boys and it wouldn’t do to appear annoyed,
no matter what happened.
Though careful not to draw attention to the fact, he
was observing Noboru constantly. As the boy mingled
happily with his friends, Ryuji saw the piercing look of
cross-examination go out of his eyes for the first time. It
was like watching motes of dust dance into colour in
the winter light streaming through the tram window:
boundaries between Noboru and the others became
blurred, and he confused them. That had hardly seemed
possible, not with a boy so different from everyone else,
a lonely boy with a peculiar habit of eyeing adults fur-
tively. And it proved that Ryuji had been right to take
half a day off in order to amuse Noboru and his friends.
Right, he knew, in terms of a father’s moral obligation.
Most books and magazines would agree. Noboru had
approached voluntarily and offered in this excursion a
providential opportunity to cement their relationships. It
was a chance for a father and son originally strangers to
forge a bond of deep and tender trust stronger than mere
blood ties could ever be. And since Ryuji could very well
have become a father when he was twenty, there was
nothing out of the ordinary about Noboru’s age.
As soon as they were off the tram, the boys began
tugging Ryuji towards a road which wound intq the hills.
‘Hey, wait a minute , 5 he protested. ‘I never heard of a
dry dock in the mountains ! 5
‘No? But in Tokyo the subway runs up above your
head ! 5
‘I can see I 5 m no match for you fellows.’ Ryuji winced,
and the boys howled, thoroughly pleased with themselves.
The road skirted the ridge of Aoto Hill and entered
Kanazawa Ward. They passed an electric power plant
with its web of power lines and gnarled porcelain in-
sulators thrown up against the winter sky, then entered
Tomioka Tunnel. Emerging on the other side, they saw
glinting along the ridge to the right the tracks of the
Tokyo- Yokohama express; bright, new housing sites cov-
ered the slope to the left.
‘Almost there now. We go up between those sites. All
this used to be an American Army installation . 5 The boy
who seemed to be their leader tossed the explanation over
one shoulder and stepped ahead; his manner and lan-
guage, in a matter of minutes, had become brusque.
Work on the sites had been completed; there were even
stone boundary fences and the skeletons of more than a
few houses. Surrounding Ryuji, the six boys marched
straight up the road that ran between the sites. Near the
top of the hill, the road disappeared abruptly and a
terrace of uncultivated fields began. It was like clever
sleight of hand: a man standing at the bottom of the hill
would never guess that the straight, well-graded road
gave way at this point on the slope to a grassy wilderness.
There wasn’t a soul in sight. The heavy droning of
bulldozers echoed from the other side of the hill. Sounds
of motor traffic ascended from the tunnel road far below.
Except for the echoes of engine noise, the vast landscape
was empty and the sounds themselves only heightened
the bright desolation.
Here and there wooden stakes thrust up from the grass;
they were beginning to rot. A footpath buried under
fallen leaves skirted the ridge of the hill. They crossed the
withered field. Just off to the right, a rusty water tank
surrounded by a tangle of barbed wire lay half buried in
the ground; bolted lopsidedly to the tank was a sheet of
rusting tin lettered in English. Ryuji stopped and read the
U.S. Forces Installation
Unauthorized Entry Prohibited and Punishable
under Japanese Law
‘What’s “punishable” mean?’ the leader asked. There
was something about the boy Ryuji didn’t like. The
flicker of light in his eye when he asked the question sug-
gested that he knew the answer perfectly well Ryuji
forced himself to explain politely.
‘Oh - but this isn’t army property any more, so I guess
we can do whatever we want. Look!’ Even as he spoke
the boy appeared to have forgotten the subject, as though
it were a balloon he had abandoned to the sky.
‘Here’s the top.’
Ryuji stepped to the summit and gazed at the pan-
orama stretching below. ‘You’ve got yourselves quite a
The hill overlooked Tokyo Bay. Away to the left, bull-
dozers were cutting a red-loam slope into the side of a
cliff and dump trucks were hauling the earth away.
Distance dwarfed the trucks but the roar of their engines
battered endless waves into the choppy air. Farther down
in the valley were the grey roofs of an industrial labora-
tory and an aircraft factory; in the concrete garden in
front of the central offices, one small pine was bathed in
Around the factory curled an isolated country village.
The thin winter sunlight accentuated the highs and lows in
the rows of rooftops and the files of shadow cast by count-
less ridgepoles. The objects glinting like seashells through
the thin smoke that covered the valley were car windows.
As it neared the sea, the landscape appeared to fold in
on itself and assumed a special quality of rust, and sad-
ness, and clutter. Beyond a tangle of rusted machinery
discarded on the beach, a vermilion crane swung in
wobbly arcs, and, beyond the crane, there was the sea,
the piled white of stone breakwaters and, at the edge of
the reclaimed foreshore, a green dredger smoking blackly.
The sea made Ryuji feel that he had been away from it
a long, long time. Fusako’s bedroom overlooked the har-
bour but he never went near the window any more. The
water, with spring still far away, was Prussian blue except
where the shadow of one pearly cloud turned it pale,
chilly white. The rest of the mid-afternoon sky was cloud-
less, a bleached, monotone blue fading where it neared the
The sea spread from the dirtied shore towards the offing
like a huge ochre net. There were no ships close in to
shore; several freighters were moving across the offing,
small vessels which, even at this distance, were obviously
‘The ship I was on was no little tug like that.’
‘Til say - the Rakuyo had a displacement of ten
thousand tons/ Noboru affirmed. He had spoken hardly a
word all afternoon.
‘C’mon, let’s go/ the leader urged, tugging at Ryuji’s
sleeve. Descending the footpath a short distance, they
came to a segment of land miraculously untouched by
the surrounding devastation, a vestige of the mountain-
top as it must once have been. The clearing, on one of a
twisting series of slopes sheltered from the east wind by a
line of oaks and protected to the west by the heavily
wooded hilltop, merged into a neglected field of winter
rye. Withered vines snaked through the undergrowth'
round the path; sitting at the tip of one was a shrivelled,
blood-red gourd. Sunlight from the western sky was
thwarted the moment it descended here: a few pale beams
flickered over the tips of dead leaves.
Ryuji, though he remembered having done similar
things in his own youth, marvelled at a young boy’s
unique ability to discover this sort of hiding-place and
make it his own.
‘Which one of you fellows found this place?’
‘I did. But I live right over in Sugita. I pass by here
lots of times on the way to school. I found it and showed
‘And where’s this dry dock of yours?’
‘Over here.’ The leader was standing in front of a small
cave shadowed by the hilltop, smiling as he pointed at the
To Ryuji the smile seemed as brittle as fine glass crystal
and very dangerous. He couldn’t say why he thought so.
With the adroitness of a minnow slipping through a net,
the boy shifted his gaze away from Ryuji’s face and con-
tinued the explanation.
‘This is our dry dock. A dry dock on top of a mountain.
We repair run-down ships here, dismantle them first and
then rebuild them from the ground up.’
‘Is that right? . . . Must be quite a job hauling a ship
way up here.’
‘It’s easy - nothing to it/ the boy said, and the too
pretty smile fit his face again.
They sat down on the faintly green, as though grass-
stained, ground in front of the cave. It was very cold in
the shade and the sea breeze spanked their faces. Ryuji
hunched into his pea-jacket and crossed his legs. He had
just settled himself when the bulldozers began their din
‘Well, have any of you fellows ever been aboard a
really big ship ? 5 he ventured, with forced cheeriness.
They glanced around at each other, but no one
‘You talk about life at sea/ he began again, facing his
stolid audience, ‘you have to begin with getting seasick.
Any sailor’s been through it one time or another. And
I’ve known men to chuck up the sponge after one cruise,
they’ve had such a hell of a time with it. The larger the
ship is, the more mixture of rolling and pitching you get;
and there are some special smells too, like paint and oil
and food cooking in the galley . . /
When he saw they weren’t interested in seasickness, he
tried a song for lack of anything else. ‘Did you fellows
ever hear this song?
‘The whistle wails and streamers tear,
Our ship slips away from the pier.
Now the sea’s my home, I decided that.
But even I must shed a tear
As I wave, boys, as I wave so sad
At the harbour town where my heart was glad.’
The boys nudged each other and giggled, and finally
burst out laughing. Noboru was embarrassed to death. He
stood up abruptly and, plucking Ryuji’s cap from his
head, turned his back on the others and began to toy with
The anchor at the centre of the large, tear-shaped em-
blem was girded with chains of gold thread and wreathed
in laurel branches embroidered in gold and hung with
silver berries. Above and below the emblem, hawsers of
gold braid were looped in slack coils. The peak was
austere; reflecting the afternoon sun, it shone with a
Once, at sunset on a summer day, this marvellous cap
had receded over a dazzling sea, becoming a glittering
emblem of farewell and the unknown. This very cap,
receding until it was free of the high injunctions of exist-
ence, had become an exalted firebrand lighting the way
‘My first voyage was on a freighter bound for Hong
Kong. . . As he began to talk about his career, Ryuji
felt the boys growing more attentive. He told them of his
experiences on that first voyage, the failures, the con-
fusion, the longing, and the melancholy. Then he started
on anecdotes collected on voyages around the world:
waiting in Suez harbour for clearance through the canal
when someone discovered that one of the hawsers had
been stolen; the watchman in Alexandria who spoke
Japanese and conspired with merchants on the pier to
foist various vulgar items on the crew (details of these
Ryuji withheld as being unsuitable material for the class-
room); the unimaginable difficulty of taking on coal at
Newcastle in Australia and then readying the ship for the
next load before they reached Sydney, a journey logged
in a single watch; encountering off the coast of South
America a United Fruit transport vessel and the sea air
suddenly redolent of the tropical fruit brimming in the
hatches . . .
Half-way through his story, Ryuji happened to glance
up and saw the leader slipping on a pair of long latex
gloves. Tensing his fingers, the boy crossed them nervously
again and again as if to glue the cold rubber to his
Ryuji ignored him. A bright student bored with class
was acting on a whim - a meaningless display. Besides,
the more he talked, the more insistently recollection was
prodding him; turning, he gazed at the thin line of con-
densed blue which was the sea.
Trailing black smoke, a small ship was teetering on the
horizon. He could have been aboard that ship himself.
Gradually, as he talked to the boys, Ryuji had come to
understand himself as Noboru imagined him.
I could have been a man sailing away for ever . He had
been fed up with it all, glutted, and yet now, slowly, he
was awakening again to the immensity of what he had
The dark passions of the tides, the shriek of a tidal
wave, the avalanching break of surf upon a shoal ... an
unknown glory calling for him endlessly from the dark
offing, glory merged in death and in a woman, glory to
fashion of his destiny something special, something rare.
At twenty he had been passionately certain: in the depths
of the world’s darkness was a point of light which had
been provided for him alone and would draw near some
day to irradiate him and no other.
Whenever he dreamed of them, glory and death and
woman were consubstantial. Yet when the woman had
been attained, the other two withdrew beyond the offing
and ceased their mournful wailing of his name. The things
he had rejected were now rejecting him.
Not that the blast furnace of a world had ever been his
to call his own, but at one time he had felt the sun fasten
on his flank, beneath the tropical palms he missed so
much, and gnaw his flesh with sharp, hot teeth. Now
only embers remained. Now began a peaceful life, a life
bereft of motion.
Now perilous death had rejected him. And glory, no
doubt of that. And the retching drunkenness of his own
feelings. The piercing grief, the radiant farewells. The call
of the Grand Cause, another name for the tropical sun,
and the women’s gallant tears, and the dark longing, and
the sweet heavy power propelling him towards the
pinnacle of manliness - now all this was done, finished.
‘Want some tea?’ The leader’s high, clear voice rang
out behind him.
‘Okay . . .’ Ryuji mused on without even turning his
head. He recalled the shapes of islands he had visited.
Makatea in the South Pacific and New Caledonia. The
West Indies: seething with languor and melancholy, teem-
ing with condor and parrots and, everywhere you looked,
palms. Emperor palms. Wine palms. Surging out of the
splendour of the sea, death had swept down on him like
a stormy bank of clouds. A vision of death now eternally
beyond his reach, majestic, acclaimed, heroic death un-
furled its rapture across his brain. And if the world had
been provided for just this radiant death, then why
shouldn’t the world also perish for it?
Waves, as tepid as blood, inside an atoll. The tropical
sun blaring across the sky like the call of a brass trumpet.
The many-coloured sea. Sharks . . .
Another step or two and Ryuji would have begun to
6 Here’s your tea/ Noboru offered from behind him,
thrusting a dark-brown plastic cup near Ryuji’s cheek.
Absently, Ryuji took it. He noticed Noboru’s hand
trembling slightly, probably from the cold.
Still immersed in his dream, he drank down the tepid
tea. It tasted bitter. Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.